High Court Allows Arkansas Abortion Law to Take Effect

(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to hear an appeal over the constitutionality of an Arkansas law that regulates medication abortions performed in early pregnancy.

In a statement Tuesday, Planned Parenthood Great Plains president Brandon Hill called the law at issue “the triumph of politicians over science.”

The Arkansas law requires every physician who provides an abortion-inducing drug to have a signed contract with a physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital in order to handle any potential complications. Planned Parenthood, which is suing the state, claims that the law is medically unnecessary and an unconstitutional burden on women seeking abortions.

In its petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood said that the law would effectively eliminate medication abortion in Arkansas entirely and would halt abortion services at two of the state’s three abortion facilities because they cannot find any physicians in the state who are willing to handle hospital admissions.

“There is no medical reason to apply that requirement to providers of medication abortion, which is extremely safe and rarely, if ever, results in complications that require emergency care,” Planned Parenthood wrote.

According to its complaint, the organization has never had to transfer a medication abortion patient from its health centers to a hospital.

In rejecting the appeal, the Supreme Court is effectively allowing the law, which was passed in 2015, to take effect while Planned Parenthood continues to fight it in the lower courts. The justices did not comment on why they declined to hear the appeal.

A federal district judge had temporarily blocked the state from implementing the law, but the Eighth Circuit vacated the injunction last year.

The St. Louis-based appeals court ruled that the district court failed to make factual findings estimating the number of women burdened by the law, and should do so to determine whether that number constitutes a “large fraction.”

In its petition, Planned Parenthood argued that the Eighth Circuit’s decision ignores The Supreme Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that restrictions on legal abortion cannot unduly burden a woman without providing a legitimate medical benefit.

That case dealt with a Texas law, similar to the law being challenged in Arkansas, which specified that abortions be performed in hospital-style surgical centers by doctors with admitting privileges to hospitals within 30 miles.

Hellerstedt should have put the debate over the undue burden standard to rest,” Planned Parenthood wrote in its petition.

The dispute over the Arkansas law will now return to the district court. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood is notifying patients in Arkansas that they can no longer access medication abortions at the facilities in their state.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion” Planned Parenthood Vice President Dawn Laguens said in a statement. “This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state. If that’s not an undue burden, what is?”

Arkansas Attorney Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge praised the high court’s decision Tuesday.

“Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority,” she said.

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