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Planned Parenthood asked Monday that a federal judge put a six-month hold on its lawsuit challenging a state law affecting medication abortions or let the case be dismissed under a provision allowing it to be refiled if necessary.

The move followed a joint request earlier this month by the provider and the state of Arkansas to dismiss a pending appeal at the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which granted the request, returning the case to U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.

The appeal had been filed by the attorney general's office in response to Baker's July 2 preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing Act 577 of 2015, which requires a doctor who provides medication abortions to contract with a second doctor who has hospital admitting privileges, in the event of an emergency.

The state contends the law was put in place to assure the safety of abortion patients, while Planned Parenthood contends it was an effort to stop its clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville from performing abortions. Both clinics provide only medication-induced abortion -- a two-pill process that begins in the doctor's office and is completed at home. The only other type of abortion available is surgical abortion, which in Arkansas is provided only in Little Rock, at Little Rock Family Planning Services, which also provides medication abortions.

The opposing parties joined together to stop the appeal after Planned Parenthood said in early November that a doctor came forward and agreed to provide the services required under the law. The provider of family-planning services had complained for three years that it couldn't find a physician willing to be the designated on-call physician.

While Planned Parenthood is now in compliance with the law, it still maintains that the law is unconstitutional.

In a filing Monday, Planned Parenthood attorneys said they want to submit a status report at the end of a six-month period, so Baker "can determine whether to extend the stay or dismiss the case without prejudice," which would allow the case to be refiled.

"Plaintiffs believe a stay is appropriate at this juncture because of [their] well-founded fear that if their current contracted physician becomes unwilling to maintain the agreement with [them], they will be unable to identify another physician willing and able to do so, and patient access to medication abortion services will be immediately jeopardized," the filing asserts.

Throughout the years since the lawsuit was filed in late 2015, right before the law was to take effect, "several physicians initially expressed interest in assisting [Planned Parenthood] in complying with the requirement, but then did not respond to repeated follow-up attempts," the filing states. "One physician expressed concerns regarding his security and safety, including that protesters may show up at his home or practice due to his potential association with an abortion provider, and eventually stopped responding to outreach efforts."

Another doctor "initially expressed interest but then was unable to obtain approval from the hospital at which she holds privileges," according to the filing.

It notes that "one physician with qualifying hospital privileges, to whom [Planned Parenthood] staff had repeatedly reached out, has now responded and, after extensive conversation, signed an agreement to be the contracted physician as required by section 1504(d) of the Act."

Though the provider is now in compliance with the law, "the modest stay Plaintiffs seek protects Arkansas women from devastating effects this Court found were likely if [they] lose their ability to comply with this medically unnecessary requirement and are then forced to stop providing medication abortion," it says.

It identifies the harms as preventing women from obtaining abortions at all, preventing women who strongly prefer medication abortion over surgical abortion from obtaining one, and delaying other women in accessing abortion.

"With the case stayed, rather than dismissed, Plaintiffs can return to this Court -- who is already familiar with the relevant facts and law -- expeditiously should relief become necessary," the filing argues.

Metro on 11/27/2018

Print Headline: Provider asks judge to hold abortion suit


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