By ANDREW DeMILLO
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Planned Parenthood asked a federal judge on Friday to again block an Arkansas law that restricts how abortion pills are administered, saying the restriction makes the state the first in the U.S. to effectively ban that form of abortion.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the state appeared before U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, a little more than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the state to enforce the restriction. The law says doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with a physician with admitting privileges at a hospital that agrees to treat any complications.
Justices last week rejected a Planned Parenthood appeal to reinstate Baker’s earlier order blocking the law. Planned Parenthood had appealed an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said Baker failed to determine how many women would be unduly burdened by the law and whether they constitute a “large fraction” of women seeking medication abortions in the state.
Planned Parenthood said it’s stopped providing medication abortions at its Little Rock and Fayetteville facilities, and a Little Rock abortion clinic has also stopped offering that form of abortion.
“The contracted physician requirement does nothing to protect women’s health,” Mai Ratakonda, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said at the hearing. “Instead, it has eliminated medication abortion in this state, reduced the number of abortion providers from three to one and will only continue to severely burden a large fraction of women seeking medication abortion in the state.”
Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer surgical abortions at its facilities, while a third facility not affiliated with the group — Little Rock Family Planning Services — does. Planned Parenthood says it has been unable to find any physicians willing to contract with its facilities.
Ratakonda called the impact of Arkansas’ law is even more extreme than that from a similar Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.
Attorneys for the state, however, said Planned Parenthood hasn’t met the burden required the appeals court set out.
“The entire theme of (Planned Parenthood’s) argument here today seems to be that this court should re-adopt an analysis that the 8th Circuit has already determined was erroneous,” Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Bronni said.
Baker did not say when she would rule but asked attorneys to submit briefs by noon Wednesday on remaining issues, including whether she should consider new evidence.