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story.lead_photo.caption In this Feb. 17, 2016 photo, the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. - Photo by AP / J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal Tuesday to hear a dispute over a 2015 Arkansas law effectively puts an immediate end to pill-induced abortions statewide. It also gives Arkansas the distinction of being the first state in the country to, in essence, ban medication abortions.

In late December, Planned Parenthood asked the nation's highest court to review an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that dissolved a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Little Rock. The March 14, 2016, injunction prevented the state from enforcing a new law -- Act 577 of 2015 -- that requires providers of medication abortions to contract with a second doctor who holds hospital admitting privileges.

While legislators said the law was enacted to protect women, Planned Parenthood said its real purpose was to put its clinics -- one each in Little Rock and Fayetteville -- out of business. The clinics have provided medication-induced abortions along with other services such as birth control, cancer screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. The only other clinic in the state that performs abortions -- Little Rock Family Planning Services -- has provided both medication-induced and surgical abortions.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's injunction was allowed to remain in place while the appeal was pending. But with the high court's rejection of the case Tuesday, without explanation, the 2015 law is now set to go into effect as soon as the 8th Circuit issues a mandate returning the case to Baker's court. That could be as soon as today.

The law originally was to go into effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Although it doesn't ban medication abortions outright, Planned Parenthood says the law creates an impossible situation that has the same effect. It said no physicians with admitting privileges are willing to contract with its doctors because of the stigma of being associated with an abortion provider.

On Tuesday evening, attorneys for Planned Parenthood filed a motion asking Baker to impose a new injunction, based on additional statistics the 8th Circuit sought, to stop the law's enforcement.

Baker previously ruled that the access burdens created by the law outweighed its safety concerns and that practices already in place at the abortion clinics were sufficient to ensure that patients received continuity of care after leaving the clinic. But a three-judge panel at the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, said July 28 that Baker needed to make more specific findings about how many women are likely to be burdened as a result of the restrictions.

The plaintiffs were awaiting the result of their appeal to the Supreme Court before submitting a new request to address the 8th Circuit's concerns. Bettina Brownstein of Little Rock, an attorney for the clinics, said that meanwhile, all pill-induced abortions scheduled in Little Rock and Fayetteville on Tuesday and beyond were canceled, to ensure there is no violation of the 8th Circuit's order.

Stephanie Ho, a doctor at the Fayetteville clinic and the named plaintiff in the case, said there were patients who had to be denied care at both clinics Tuesday as a result of the ruling, though she didn't know how many.

In enacting the law, state legislators cited "an increased risk of complications relative to surgical abortion," including pain, cramping, headache and fatigue. But Planned Parenthood says medication abortion is safe and that major complications are "extremely rare."

Ho said medication-induced abortion, which is brought about by the ingestion of two pills -- mifepristone and misoprostol -- is limited to the first 10 weeks of gestation. She said it and the surgical procedure -- which generally doesn't involve anesthesia -- are both "incredibly safe."

She said the pill method is often chosen because it allows the patient to take one pill at the clinic and the other at home, making it more accessible and comfortable, though sometimes one procedure or the other is recommended based on a woman's medical condition.

Medication-induced abortion is not the same as the "morning-after" pill, which is a form of emergency contraception that is designed to prevent pregnancy up to five days after unprotected sex.

In 2016, 3,207 abortions were performed in Arkansas, 556 of which were medication-induced, according to the state Department of Health. More recent data weren't available Tuesday.

A spokesman for Little Rock Family Planning Services wasn't available Tuesday to say how Act 577's enforcement will affect the clinic. However, in the absence of medication abortions, women who are seeking abortions in Arkansas would have to drive to the Little Rock clinic to have a surgical abortion, go to another state or forgo the procedure.

"Our doors are still open," Ho said Tuesday, noting that the Planned Parenthood clinics will direct patients seeking abortions to Little Rock Family Planning, or if a medication abortion is desired or medically called for, to Planned Parenthood affiliates or other providers in other states.

Brandon Hill, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which oversees clinics in four states including Arkansas, said Tuesday: "Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion. 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? This law cannot and must not stand."

Several state officials also weighed in, but from a different perspective.

"The Supreme Court's decision today was good news for those who are concerned about health and safety in the administration of medically induced abortions," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. "Not only does the Court's action uphold Arkansas law but it also underscores the importance and necessity of protecting women, as well as the unborn, with common-sense measures."

Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office has defended the law, issued a statement saying: "Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority. We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am Attorney General."

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin also issued a statement: "I applaud the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear a challenge to Arkansas' law on abortion-inducing drugs. ... The Court's refusal is a win for women's health, continuity of care for the mother, and protecting the life of the unborn child."

U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., issued a news release saying, "I commend the Supreme Court today and stand with the people of Arkansas who have spoken through the legislature in support of the pro-life cause and have stated their desire for ensuring access to safe, effective and affordable health care services for women in Arkansas and throughout the country."

Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council, a conservative education and research organization based in Little Rock, called the high court's move "very good news for people who care about the safety of women in Arkansas. It's not too much to require an abortion doctor to have a contract that allows him or her to have their emergency patients ... admitted to a local hospital. Women who are bleeding from a botched abortion shouldn't have to drive to the emergency room and admit themselves into a hospital. They deserve better treatment and this good law does that."

Ho said Tuesday that abortions in general have a complication rate of less than 1 percent.

Cox said efforts to seek a new injunction "could delay enforcement, but likely not prevent it."

He also said: "This is a pro-life victory not only for the women of Arkansas, but for women across the nation. I'm sure other states will be looking at Arkansas and considering following our example."

Steven Aden, general counsel for Americans United for Life, which said it is the legal arm of the anti-abortion movement, said the high court's decision not to review the case "has signaled that federal courts still have to follow basic legal procedures, even in abortion cases, when deciding constitutional questions."

He said the 8th Circuit ruling was "strongly grounded in Supreme Court precedent" and required the lower court "to do simple math."

Act 577, also known as the Abortion Inducing Drugs Safety Act, was sponsored by state Rep. Charlene Fite, R-Van Buren, and state Sen. Linda Collins-Smith, R-Pocahontas. Cox said he was pleased to work with the legislators to get the law passed, and that Rutledge deserved special credit for "vigorously and successfully" defending "this good law."

The law is similar to one in Texas that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2016. The majority of justices in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstadt found that abortion restrictions that are medically unnecessary and burden women are unconstitutional. The Texas law required abortion doctors themselves to have admitting privileges, which the court majority said placed a "substantial obstacle" in the path of women seeking abortions and constituted an "undue burden" on abortion access.

Planned Parenthood said the cases were "nearly identical," but Arkansas officials said its law is less onerous than the Texas law.

"If this law is allowed to continue, it will be hardest for people who already face barriers to care, including people of color, young people, and those with low incomes," Planned Parenthood said. It also noted that public support for access to safe, legal abortion is at a "record high."

Photo by Democrat-Gazette file photo
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker is shown in this file photo.

Metro on 05/30/2018

Print Headline: U.S. justices refuse to hear abortion case


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  • RBear
    May 30, 2018 at 6:08 a.m.

    It is so funny to read the perspective of anti-abortion advocates on this decision. Take Gov. Hutchinson. "Not only does the Court's action uphold Arkansas law but it also underscores the importance and necessity of protecting women, as well as the unborn, with common-sense measures." No it doesn't, Asa. As a jurist, Hutchinson should be able to discern why SCOTUS kicked it back to the 8th.
    Heck, even this paper went on a rally regarding the decision in its own coverage. The bottom line, and anyone who follows SCOTUS including us hobbyists, knows that when SCOTUS declines to hear a case with a unanimous vote it means there are procedural issues that must be cleared first before it can be heard by the justices. PP appealed in an attempt to block the law and SCOTUS kicked it back.
    To start with, AR's law is going to have a hard time overcoming the judicial ruling of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the decision overturning a very similar TX law regarding admitting privileges. That decision related to surgical abortions, which are safe but not as safe as medication induced abortions, which the AR law addresses. Unless there is some OTHER issue at stake with the AR law, you can expect it to be overturned as well.
    Reading through Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the positions laid out by SCOTUS don't give AR much wiggle room to mount a successful defense of the law. The fact that medication induced abortions in the first 10 weeks are so safe leaves AR in a precarious position to prove the value of the law on legal grounds.
    But, you can expect both sides to run off on tangients unrelated to the SCOTUS decision or the legal procedures to come. Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey still stand which puts the AR case on shaky grounds.

  • WGT
    May 30, 2018 at 6:30 a.m.

    Vote out inane, ignorant politicians who believe they know better than a doctor what is medically correct for a woman. Conservative , republican politicians who practice religious dogma are the stumbling block to humanity moving forward. The roster of political characters in Arkansas are shedding light on this fact. What a woman does with her body, her health, her well being is ONLY between her and her doctor.

  • Popsmith
    May 30, 2018 at 8:08 a.m.

    Abortion is still murder.

  • LRCrookAtty
    May 30, 2018 at 9:35 a.m.

    WGT..."...What a woman does with her body, her health, her well being is ONLY between her and her doctor." True, but when another life is in the balance, then it is no longer her choice or her doctor's. She took that out of her hands, herself, when she took the chance of becoming pregnant. Just because she does not want to take responsibility for her actions, has nothing to do with her body or health. Now when her health is at issue is a different question.

  • GeneralMac
    May 30, 2018 at 10:01 a.m. are so wrong with your..." what a woman does with her body is between her and her doctor"

    Many things are against the law once a doctor is involved.
    Assisted suicide, for starters.

    Also, many cosmetic procedures have been deemed against the law despite a woman and doctor agreeing to the procedure.

    Once the term..."doctor"....enters the equation, there are laws goverfning procedures.

  • GeneralMac
    May 30, 2018 at 10:09 a.m.

    When the United States Supreme Court upheld the ..BAN..on that gruesome procedure known as partial birth abortion, EVERY Democrat campaigning for president voiced their strong opposition to the Supreme Court's decision.
    (I specifically recall, Barack HUSSEIN Obama voicing his opposition and wanting to keep it legal )

    Partial birth abortion is where only the head is out and a scissors is thrust into the base of the skull to kill the baby before it is fully out of the mother.

    Barack HUSSEIN Obama supported this procedure despite the VAST MAJORITY of people being against it.

    Evidently he, and other Democrats, didn't want campaign funds from the far left to slow down if he agreed with the ban by the United States Supreme Court

  • Packman
    May 30, 2018 at 11:07 a.m.

    Hey WGT - How can it only be "her" body if Planned Parenthood rips it apart and sells the parts? How can "she" survive without "her" heart and lungs that Planned Parenthood auctioned off to the highest bidder? Please explain, WGT. Waiting patiently.

  • GeneralMac
    May 30, 2018 at 12:04 p.m.

    dismantle and sell parts?

    Sounds like an auto salvage place and one would never call those who dis-assemble cars " auto mechanics".

    Why then do we call those who dismantle babies abortion " doctors"?

  • LRDawg
    May 30, 2018 at 1:20 p.m.

    So we make laws to stop unborn deaths but none to stop deaths after birth? Take away the woman's nothing with the man's gun. This isn't about saving lives, mothers die giving birth. This is old men showing women who's boss

  • RBear
    May 30, 2018 at 1:45 p.m.

    Yep, figured that’s where the “debate” would go today. Nothing about the actual case. Just a bunch of back and forth sniping at each other about all sorts of claims. The bottom line is the AR law got a reprieve before being struck down later by SCOTUS.