JUDGE BAKER: She again blocks state anti=-abortion law.

Federal Judge Kristine Baker has again blocked enforcement of the Arkansas anti-abortion law that would end the availability in Arkansas of abortion by a safe two-pill protocol in the early weeks of pregnancy.

The judge had once before enjoined the law requiring an agreement between clinics and doctors with hospital admitting privileges. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted that injunction. It said the judge hadn’t developed enough evidence on the number of women who’d be affected. She gathered more information, issued a two-week temporary restraining order that expired at 5 p.m. today and has now again issued a preliminary injunction.

Support the Arkansas Blog with a subscription

We can't resist without our readers!

Her order indicates she believes Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains, plaintiffs in the suit, have a likelihood of succeeding on the merits of its challenge. The state law would put its clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock out of business. It would also stop medication abortions, used in the first nine or 10 weeks of pregnancy, at the one remaining clinical abortion provider in Little Rock. With the law in place, women in Fayetteville, for example, would have to make two 380-mile roundtrips to Little Rock to satisfy the onerous notice requirements of the state’s abortion-discouraging laws to finally obtain a more expensive surgical abortion.

In the 148-page order, Baker concluded the benefits of the law were outweighed by damage to women and Planned Parenthood. She said no harm would come to the state from the injunction. She wrote:

Advertisement

Plaintiffs have shown that “in a large fraction of the cases in which [the contracted physician requirement] is relevant, it will operate as a substantial obstacle to a woman’s choice to undergo an abortion.”

The order in full. It follows decisions in other states upheld in other circuits, but not by the conservative 8th Circuit.

Her order concluded that Planned Parenthood and its clinical leader, Dr. Stephanie Ho, had met their initial burder for a preliminary injunction, but she set a condition.

Advertisement

The Court modifies the form of injunctive relief awarded at this stage to address lingering questions. Defendants (Pulaski and Washington Prosecuting Attorneys) Mr. Jegley and Mr. Durrett, and all those acting in concert with them, may enforce Section 1504(d) against medication abortion providers subject to the Act only to the extent that abortion providers must make an effort to comply with Section 1504(d) by continuing to seek a contracted physician.

Defendants are, however, preliminarily enjoined from imposing any civil or criminal penalties for continuing to perform medication abortion while abortion providers subject to the Act continue in their efforts to comply with Section 1504(d).

…. The Court orders plaintiffs to report to the Court every 30 days on their efforts to comply with Section 1504(d). Plaintiffs may file redacted and under seal reports to the extent consistent with the protective order in effect in this case (Dkt. No. 39). This preliminary injunction remains in effect until further order from this Court. No party is barred from seeking modified or additional relief

Comments from Planned Parenthood:

Washington, D.C. — Monday, a federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against an abortion restriction that made Arkansas the first state to effectively ban medication abortion. Last month, the Arkansas law ended access at all but one health center in the state after the Supreme Court declined to take the case. The Arkansas law, which forced medication abortion providers to contract with another OB-GYN who holds hospital admitting privileges, directly contradicts Supreme Court precedent in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) in which the high court ruled that requiring admitting privileges is medically unnecessary and creates an undue burden on women in need of care.

The federal district court in Arkansas ruled today that the law “does little if anything to advance Arkansas’ ‘legitimate interest in protecting women’s health…’” and that “…it will operate as a substantial obstacle to a woman’s choice to undergo an abortion.”

With Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement last week, the right to an abortion hangs in the balance nationwide. This ruling serves as a reminder that the courts continue to act as the last line of defense in preserving women’s rights, including access to safe, legal abortion. Just last week, the Iowa Supreme Court blocked an abortion law that would have forced women to travel twice to a health center and wait at least 72-hours before an abortion. The court recognized “that a right that is only accessible to the wealthy or privileged is no right at all.”

Advertisement

Statement from Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“Today’s ruling in Arkansas sheds light on what’s at stake for women in this country. When this law went into effect for two weeks, we saw patients scrambling, without another plan. We cannot and will not let that become a reality for women nationwide. Now is the time for us to unite and fight for everyone’s rights and freedoms — and to call on our Senators to reject any Supreme Court nominee who opposes Roe v Wade. ”

Statement from Brandon Hill, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Great Plains:

“Today’s ruling demonstrates that the court fully understands the harmful and immediate effects this law has on women in Arkansas. Let this case stand as a warning for people across the country who are worried about the future of Roe v. Wade: the courts are often our last line of defense, and we should demand that they uphold the law of the land. For patients facing confusion or uncertainty, today’s ruling sends a clear message: medication abortion remains safe, legal, and accessible to Arkansan women — and we will do everything in our power to keep it that way.”

UPDATE2: Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was disappointed. She continues to insist, contrary to evidence, that the law is about women’s health.