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Judge: Will rule on abortion pills

Sides argue as Rx limits near by Noel Oman | December 31, 2015 at 5:45 a.m.

A federal judge said Wednesday that she would issue a written ruling on a request to halt a new state law set to go into effect Friday that will limit the way the abortion pill is administered.

U.S. Judge Kristine Baker made the comments after a two-hour hearing on a lawsuit filed Monday by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which makes the abortion pill available to pregnant women at its health centers in Little Rock and Fayetteville.

The organization -- which is one of two abortion providers in the state -- said in the lawsuit that if the law goes into effect, medication abortions will no longer be available in the state and women will be forced to seek surgical options instead.

Because Planned Parenthood provides only chemical abortions and not surgical ones in Arkansas, an organization representative had said it would refer its clients to the other provider in the state, Little Rock Family Planning Services, for surgical abortions.

The lawsuit claims that Little Rock Family Planning Services said it would no longer offer the abortion pill and would operate solely as a surgical abortion provider if the law goes into effect.

The lawsuit says the requirements of Arkansas Act 577 -- which stipulates that a doctor providing the medication has to maintain a contract with another doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital -- are impossible to fulfill.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland said in court documents that it has been trying unsuccessfully for months to locate a physician with admitting privileges to satisfy the law and continue administering chemical abortions but that most said they could not contract with Planned Parenthood "because of fear of stigma and harassment from being associated with an abortion provider."

The lawsuit, which is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, also targets the regimen the law requires, which an attorney for Planned Parenthood said is an "outdated and inferior regimen ... that has been proven to be less safe than the regimen that plaintiffs and most abortion providers in the country use."

"These provisions are unconstitutional because they will significantly reduce abortion access in the state, leaving only one abortion provider, and they will eliminate entirely the option of medication abortion," N.Y.-based lawyer Maithreyi Ratakonda, an attorney for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told the judge. "And they will do all of this without any benefit to women's health.

"In fact, the act's requirements will harm women by preventing them from accessing abortions and, for those who still can access abortions, delaying them until later in gestational age at increased risk to their health and increased cost."

Together, Planned Parenthood's two health centers in Arkansas provide about 500 medical abortions annually, she said. The abortion pill has been available in Arkansas since 2008, according to statements in court.

Colin Jorgensen, an Arkansas assistant attorney general, told Baker that the plaintiffs presented no evidence an emergency existed, and suggested they "made a strategic decision to file this lawsuit at the eleventh hour in the hope that the defendants would be unable to mount a full-throated defense."

He noted that the law was passed in March and that the bill on which it was based contained a provision that it would take effect Friday.

"So anyone who has been paying attention has known for almost a year now that Friday is the effective date of this act," he said.

Further, Jorgensen said, "If there really was an emergency here, your honor, there would be a Jane Doe plaintiff. Or at least an affidavit from a Jane Doe, establishing that someone, a woman, is in need of a medication abortion after Jan. 1, 2016. And there's not.

"There's no Jane Doe plaintiff in this case, there's no affidavit from a woman who said she needs an abortion and is going to be unable to obtain it as a result of this law. There's no evidence whatsoever. There's no emergency."

In her arguments, Ratakonda reiterated that Planned Parenthood only received its latest communication from a doctor declining to enter a contract with the organization on Monday.

"Plaintiffs shouldn't be penalized for trying to comply with the law no matter how unconstitutional it is," she said.

Jorgensen said the state law meets court tests as rational and its provisions present "no substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion, any kind of an abortion, in a large fraction of relevant cases," as set out in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

According to Planned Parenthood protocol, the woman seeking an abortion first goes to the clinic and, as required by law, is given information outlining alternatives to abortion. The state-mandated initial ultrasound is also performed at this time.

At least 48 hours later, the woman returns to the clinic and is given one 200-milligram mifepristone pill in the presence of a physician. She is then given four misoprostol pills totalling 800 milligrams to take at home. She is seen in the clinic two weeks later to ensure the abortion is complete.

Ratakonda said the regimen required by Act 577 would require two additional mifepristone pills, each of which costs the patient $70.

But Jorgensen said the regimen outlined in the law follows rules set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved in 2000. He acknowledged he knew of no other drug for which its regimen was set in state law.

Metro on 12/31/2015

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