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New Front in Planned Parenthood Battle

LITTLE ROCK (CN) - Planned Parenthood and a doctor sued Arkansas prosecutors in Federal Court, challenging a law that takes effect Jan. 1 that will "require that medication abortions be provided using an inferior, outdated protocol," and impose other unnecessary burdens on women "without any medical benefit."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed Act 577 into law this year, to cover all medication abortions in Arkansas beginning Jan. 1. On Monday, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued the prosecuting attorneys of Pulaski and Washington counties (Little Rock and Fayetteville).

"Without relief from this court, as of January 1, 2016, PPH will be forced to stop providing abortions entirely, leaving only one health center in the state, which will offer only surgical abortion," the lawsuit states.

The law threatens Planned Parenthood and its doctor with criminal prosecution and will "impair the health and safety of women seeking abortions in Arkansas and violate their constitutional rights," according to the complaint.

Act 577 requires all doctors providing medication abortions to have a signed contract with a doctor who agrees to handle any complications and who maintains admitting privileges at a hospital. It also mandates that abortions be provided using "an inferior, outdated protocol that appears on the final printed labeling (FPL) for the medication," the complaint states.

Planned Parenthood operates two of the three health centers that provide abortions in Arkansas, in Little Rock and Fayetteville.

"The two PPH health centers will no longer be able to offer medication abortion services because PPH cannot comply with the contracted physician requirement. Because PPH has no surgical abortion provider in Arkansas, it will be unable to offer abortion at all," the complaint states.

More than 2 million American women have safely had a medication abortion, consisting of a combination of two FDA-approved prescription pills, according to the complaint. Planned Parenthood says it tried unsuccessfully for months to find a doctor with admitting privileges but that "many physicians PPH contacted did not want to contract with PPH because of fear of stigma and harassment from being associated with an abortion provider."

Planned Parenthood says the law's requirements are medically unnecessary and that major complications for medication abortion "are extremely rare."

"Legal abortion is one of the safest and most common procedures in contemporary medical practice," the complaint states. "Medication abortion is an extremely safe and effective method of abortion, one of the safest procedures in medical practice today."

The complaint adds: "Due to this unnecessary law, women in Fayetteville will be forced to travel there hours each way to Little Rock to have a surgical abortion, and women statewide will lose access to a safe, early method of abortion using medication alone."

Planned Parenthood says the contracted physician requirement is needless because its policies and protocols "ensure that patients receive the same level and quality of care in the event of a complication as they would if PPH had a contracted physician."

Planned Parenthood has never had to transfer a medication abortion patient from its health centers to a hospital, according to the complaint.

It seeks declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional, that it violates the right to equal protection and to due process rights of liberty and privacy, to bodily integrity, to practice a profession, and it wants its enforcement enjoined.

Its lead counsel is Bettina Brownstein of Little Rock, assisted by house counsel in Washington, D.C. and New York City.

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