Two of Arkansas’ three remaining abortion clinics may soon close after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the state’s exacting abortion laws.
Though the provisions at issue may yet be overturned in federal court, pro-choice partisans say Monday’s decision will inhibit safe abortion access in Arkansas for the foreseeable future.
“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” Planned Parenthood EVP Dawn Laguens said Monday. “This dangerous law also immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state.”
The case was occasioned when the state adopted a law requiring health care facilities that administer medication abortions to contract with a physician who has hospital admittance privileges. The provision is similar to a Texas law the high court struck down in a 2016 decision called Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Any law which places an “undue burden” on abortion access is considered unconstitutional.
A federal judge in Little Rock initially barred enforcement of the law, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, finding the ruling failed to make essential factual findings.
In its petition to the Court, Planned Parenthood said it made every attempt to comply with the state’s requirements, but could not find a single physician willing to enter the contract prescribed in the law.
“Planned Parenthood contacted every OB-GYN it could identify in the state, and none agreed to enter into the required contract,” the petition reads. “As the district court recognized, this is not surprising because ‘physicians who provide abortions or associate with physicians who provide abortions’ in Arkansas ‘risk being ostracized from their communities and face harassment and violence toward themselves, their family, and their private practices.'”
In rebuttal, Arkansas argued its law is different from Texas’ in essential particulars. The Texas provisions in the Hellerstedt decision mandated that all abortion providers have admittance privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their facility. The Arkansas law places no such demand on providers, and only applies against a specific subset of procedures. Surgical abortions are still conducted at a clinic in Little Rock.
Proponents of the law say it ensures easy health care access for any women procuring a medication abortion who may need follow-up medical supervision.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge asserted that the regulations protect the health and well-being of women and children.
“As attorney general, I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood today,” she said following Monday’s decision. “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.”
The law’s survival is not yet guaranteed, however. Monday’s decision merely affirms the 8th Circuit’s order remanding the case to a lower court for further findings of fact. As such, the law may be enjoined at some future date, once a federal judge makes the factual determinations the 8th Circuit said was lacking in the initial ruling.
The justices are currently weighing another abortion controversy arising from California, in which pro-life crisis pregnancy centers are challenging a state law requiring them to disseminate information about taxpayer-funded abortions.
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