Today's Paper Search Latest App In the news Traffic #Gazette200 Paper Trails Listen Digital FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles/Games Archive

Medication-induced abortion remains available in Arkansas under a ruling issued Monday evening by a federal judge who said she has reviewed several more years of data and several new U.S. Supreme Court rulings since she first blocked the state from enforcing a 2015 law restricting the practice.

The law, Act 577 of 2015, also known as the Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act, requires doctors who perform pill-induced abortions to first secure a contract with a second obstetrician/gynecologist who has hospital admitting privileges and agrees to treat the patient if complications arise.

It's a requirement that Planned Parenthood, which provides medication abortions at its clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville, and Little Rock Family Planning Services, which provides medication and surgical abortions, say is impossible for them to meet because of the stigma doctors face if they associate with abortion doctors and the potential harassing or even violent consequences. Neither clinic was aware of any private physicians in Arkansas who perform abortions.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker first issued a preliminary injunction in May 2016 that prevented the state from enforcing the new law, which legislators touted as a means of protecting women and ensuring continuity of care after the two-step procedure that involved one pill administered by a doctor and a second taken at home. The procedure is available only through a woman's ninth week of pregnancy.

[DOCUMENT: Read U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's ruling]

But a doctor and a nurse practitioner who have provided abortions for years testified last week that the requirement is unnecessary because the increasingly popular nonsurgical procedure is safe and they have never had to admit a medication-abortion patient to a hospital. The law is seen by abortion supporters as a way to prevent Planned Parenthood from providing abortions, making it harder for all women in Arkansas to obtain them.

Baker's first injunction was dissolved last July 28 by a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. An opinion written by Judge Raymond Gruender of St. Louis, who has been named as one of President Trump's many potential nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court after the recent retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, remanded the case to Baker to flesh out her ruling. Specifically, the 8th Circuit instructed Baker to determine whether a "large fraction" of Arkansas women seeking medication abortions would by unduly burdened by the law.

The 8th Circuit's order was put on pause, however, while Planned Parenthood appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on May 29 declined to hear the case, allowing the 8th Circuit ruling to stand.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court has made other rulings, particularly in a Texas case known as Hellerstedt, declaring that a contracted-physician requirement in Texas places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman's choice for a large fraction of women seeking medication abortions.

Baker relied on the Hellerstedt case, the high court's resolution of other factual disputes and updated statistics from both sides of the lawsuit to issue a 14-day temporary restraining order that was set to expire at 5 p.m. Monday. Her latest ruling, which came in the form of a 148-page written order, was filed about 5:30 p.m. Monday, extending the temporary order. It will remain in effect until a trial on the law's constitutionality is held and the judge decides whether to make the injunction permanent. Baker has already determined that Planned Parenthood is likely to prevail.

Reaction was swift.

"Attorney General [Leslie] Rutledge is extremely disappointed in Judge Baker's decision .... allowing Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning Clinic to provide medication abortions without protecting the health of pregnant women," Rutledge's spokesman, Jessica Ray, said Monday evening.

She added, "Under this preliminary injunction, medication abortion providers can now administer these procedures without the necessary safety net available to women who experience emergencies and complications. Last year, the 8th Circuit unanimously ruled that Judge Baker's original attempt to block this law was incorrect. Today's order is completely inconsistent with the 8th Circuit's decision and Attorney General Rutledge will appeal to the 8th Circuit and do everything in her power to protect the lives of Arkansas women."

Bettina Browstein of Little Rock, one of the attorneys for Planned Parenthood, responded by saying, "Attorney General Rutledge -- that fine legal scholar -- has obviously not read this opinion," and also has apparently not read the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Hellerstedt finding that a contracted-physician requirement provides no added benefit for women, while creating an undue burden on their right to obtain an abortion.

Brownstein said she was "extremely pleased" with Baker's order, noting, "I didn't think she could possibly be more rigorous and detailed than she was in her TRO. This is quite an impressive order, a thorough piece of work."

The 148-page preliminary injunction order includes much of the reasoning from the 100-page temporary restraining order issued June 18 but includes additional information that was provided since then through legal briefs, documents and testimony at a hearing last week.

"Let's be honest," Brownstein said. "The attorney general wants to shut down abortion clinics. ... Let's not insult women and say this is about their health. She is using the subterfuge of saying this law is to help women's health." In fact, Brownstein said, "they provide fabulous abortion care at both" Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning Services.

Baker has noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that medication abortion is a "remarkably safe" procedure.

In addition to citing the high court's clarification of several legal issues since her first injunction on March 14, 2016, Baker noted that also in that time, "many more district courts have examined these issues and permitted parties to develop factual and legal arguments related to similar disputes in other states."

Baker said that Planned Parenthood -- the only provider that is a plaintiff in the lawsuit -- has provided medication abortions in Arkansas since 2008. She recited ways in which abortions in Arkansas are already "heavily regulated," including that only physicians who are currently licensed to practice in Arkansas may perform abortions, and that each abortion patient shall have access to 24-hour telephone consultation with either a registered nurse or a physician associated with the abortion facility. Counseling must be provided to each patient before an abortion, and each patient is to be assessed for post-abortion counseling.

She cited the fact that abortion patients can only be released upon a physician's orders, that detailed written instructions are provided to abortion patients when they leave the clinic, along with emergency contact numbers, and that the patients' medical records must be maintained and stored.

Each abortion facility must have written procedures for an emergency transfer of a patient to an acute care facility, and must have available equipment for handling an emergency. The Arkansas Department of Health may revoke a facility's license for any practices detrimental to a patient's health.

In 2017, Planned Parenthood physicians provided 843 medication abortions, 653 of which were performed at its Fayetteville health center. Little Rock Family Planning provided 92 medication abortions and 2,334 surgical abortions during the same period.

In her latest order, Baker cited evidence that the "vast majority" of hospitals don't provide abortions and don't provide hospital privileges to doctors who provide abortions.

She reviewed Planned Parenthood's numerous efforts to try to recruit a contracting physician and again noted that if the Fayetteville clinic stops performing abortions, women in the Fayetteville area would be required to travel 380 miles to make one trip to Little Rock to access surgical abortion services. Another Arkansas law known as the informed consent provision requires that women visit the clinic at least 48 hours in advance of the procedure, requiring two trips.

"For now, this Court finds ... that Section 1504(d) causes ongoing and imminent irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and their patients," Baker said. She said that information developed so far indicates that the section "will force [Planned Parenthood's] two abortion clinics to cease providing medication abortions, the only type of abortion offered by those two clinics, leaving Arkansas with only one abortion clinic, which is located in Little Rock and provides only surgical abortions. Those women who live in Northwest Arkansas and seek a medication abortion are now faced with the prospect of making two 380-mile round trips to Little Rock for a surgical abortion."

Even considering abortion providers in surrounding states, Baker said, "it is not a short distance to an alternative provider for most women seeking a medication abortion in Arkansas ... Since the record at this stage of the proceedings indicates that Arkansas women seeking medication abortions face an imminent threat to their constitutional rights, the Court concludes they will suffer irreparable harm without preliminary relief."

Metro on 07/03/2018

Print Headline: Ban on abortion via pill blocked; law halted until trial, judge rules


Sponsor Content

Archived Comments

  • GeneralMac
    July 3, 2018 at 9:29 a.m.

    Planned Parenthood reminds me of a huge modern auto salvage yard selling parts that has
    a gas pump by the office.

    They then try to convince you that their main business is selling gas.

  • BobfromMarion
    July 3, 2018 at 9:31 a.m.

    Popsmith says...
    "Whooeeee! Now we got a few days to jump in and murder them babies"

    The concept that a fetus is the same thing as a baby is a product of modern times. Before modern times the Catholic Church considered the quivering of the fetus, that is when the fetus's movements can be detected, as the point in the pregnancy when the church determined that life had begun.
    Abortions have been around a long time. In the 19th century abortions were considered to be both moral and legal if done before this "quivering" of the fetus.
    The AG is acting a bit foolish. There was a time when the vast majority of surgeries were done in hospitals. Patients would spend one to several days in the hospital following surgeries. Today gall bladder, hernia and a host of surgeries are done in clinics. The patient is never admitted to a hospital.
    Hospitals have to treat true emergency patients regardless of ability to pay or the moral standing the patients have with the doctors in the ER. If women do have complications from medical abortions, the doctor on duty in any emergency room would have to treat the women with any complications resulting from a medical abortion.
    The reports I have read, state that medical abortions are much safer and with far less complications than surgical abortions. "That fine legal scholar" knows this to be true. The majority of Americans are in favor of abortions being legal if the women seeking them want the abortion. "Legal scholars" like the AG are trying to outlaw abortion through the unelected federal courts. To do this Trump is trying to pack the courts with judges with strong opposition to abortions. These new judge appointees need to be willing to outlaw abortions regardless what the US Constitution says or doesn't say about abortions.

  • GeneralMac
    July 3, 2018 at 10:28 a.m.

    ......." thru the unelected Federal Courts"...

    But yet, Bob, liberal pro-abortion people turned to the " unelected Federal Courts" when they wanted the ban on partial birth abortion lifted.
    Thankfully, the "unelected" Supreme Court upheld the ban despite opposition from the likes of Susan Collins and Barack Hussein Obama

  • TimberTopper
    July 3, 2018 at 11:03 a.m.

    jonathan, and fake, Say all you want but it is still my opinion that each of you would starve a dog to death rather than putting it out of it's misery. Neither of you has the right to force your religious beliefs on to anyone else. You may be Trumptards, but you and he are not dictators in chief.

  • mrcharles
    July 3, 2018 at 11:21 a.m.

    The Bible nor the god it portrays is “pro-life,”-- Hosea 9:14; 2 Kings 15:16; Numbers 5:11-21; Numbers 31:15-18; 1 Samuel 15:3; Psalms 137:8-9.
    Genesis 2:7 is clearest. The first human became a “living being” (nefesh hayah,- “a living breath”) when God blew into its nostrils and it started to breathe- is not considered a person “soul” until it has been born- fetus is regarded as a part of the mother’s body & not a separate being until it begins to egress from the womb during parturition (childbirth). Forty days after conception, a fertilized egg is considered as “mere fluid. a Ancient book talks about male “seed” planted in fertile female ground. a man’s planted seed becomes another human being when it emerges from the womb. Exodus 21:22-25 a pregnant woman jumps into a fight between her husband & another man & suffers injuries cause her to miscarry. Killing the woman is murder, a capital crime. The miscarriage as property loss, not murder. The assailant must pay a fine to the husband. The law of a life for a life does not apply. The fetus is important, but it’s not human life in the same way the pregnant woman is.

    bobby, is not the catholic entity the whore of Babylon? Did not merica bomb German cities & murder pregnant women?

    GM , you dont like the constitution? why having such admiration for the pro-business/religious SCOTUS? Love it when balaam's ride spews here.

    Lets not have birth control, as the right [& their average ILKS on here] gets off on having children born, then taking away health care, nutrition & education from them to punish the parents [love?]. Certainly not family values, but this forces me to bring up JC's family values: If any man come to me, & hate not his father, & mother, & wife, & children, & brethren, & sisters, yea, & his own life also, he cannot be my disciple-certainly not a metaphor for anything good [ but he said only god is good anyway]

    Ye right, dont despair, I say reject this ancient incantations book by goat-herders & ignore insanity stated. Since the last witch was incinerated its use is not necessary.

  • Arkie2017
    July 3, 2018 at 11:52 a.m.

    Would not be surprised if this judge doesn't start seeing attack ads come out against her like what happened to the AR Supreme Court Justice recently and who we'll see them come at her yet again this Fall before the election. Republicans are against abortion only because it's an issues that doesn't offend their masters so they can use it as a political football much like social welfare issues or immigration which they talk a lot about but when faced with actually doing anything they fall short. Thank god we still have a few judges left with ethics and respect for law who don't bow down to the power elites.

  • pravda
    July 3, 2018 at 12:19 p.m.

    you godless liberals, rbear, timber and bobfromhell, and poor wretch mrs. chuck, all lost souls,,hey chuck / you want to read a bible passage read ROMANS 1:18-32,,,THEN spew forth,,you have no insight into who or shy my creator is,GOD IS GOD and you don't have the first clue,,,better to teach a dog a card trick chuckles,,,liberals are absolute idiots

  • pravda
    July 3, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

    auto correct= i meant who or why,

    charles, you have no grasp of the bible whatsoever, YOU MUST DIE TO YOURSELF TO TRULY LIVE, ASK YOUR ex-wife about this principle, if you live for yourself no one will like you, really pretty simple ,,JESUS IS GOD AND DONT EVER SAY OTHERWISE,,

    LAST TRUTH FOR YOU=you will bow on your knees before Jesus,,regardless of how you feel about it, and LIFE begins at conception,,,why would you use the bible to make your points if you don't believe it,,,ignoranus

  • Illinoisroy
    July 3, 2018 at 12:28 p.m.

    JJ, as Americans were are allowed to be godless liberals.

  • pravda
    July 3, 2018 at 12:29 p.m.

    rbear is really john brummett for those of you who haven't realized this yet,
    and he is brain-addled , none of his writings make sense, nonsensical ramblings, but what do you expect from a victim snow flake?