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Arkansas becomes first state to ban medical abortion

Plannedparenthood News 5 30 18
(Beth Kanter)

After a lengthy legal battle that reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Arkansas has become the first state in the nation in which women are unable to access medical abortions. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma (PPAEO) to block an anti-choice law passed in 2015 (that was not being not enforced). The organization announced that it would now cease providing non-surgical abortions to individuals in the state, at least for the moment, as the legislation continues to be litigated in the lower courts.  

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” said executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America Dawn Laguens in a statement to the Guardian and other outlets. “This dangerous law also 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?” she added. “This law cannot and must not stand.”  

The law requires that any physician who “gives, sells, dispenses, administers, or otherwise provides or prescribes” an abortion-inducing drug have a signed contract with another doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital. But as PPAEO stated in its appeal to the Supreme Court, the law functionally eliminates the medical abortion option in the state, since the organization “contacted every ob-gyn it could identify in the State, and none agreed to enter into the required contract.”  

Arkansas has three abortions clinics, two of which only provide medical abortions. If the law is allowed to go into force, women in the state will have to travel to Little Rock in order to terminate their pregnancies and will only be permitted to do so through surgical means. State law already mandates a 48-hour waiting period between a medical evaluation and any abortion procedure, which necessitates that individuals take two trips to a facility in order to terminate their pregnancies.  

Medical abortions, which are available to individuals who have had their menstrual period within the last 70 days, are often considered preferable since they are non-invasive and can be completed at home. Survivors of rape, incest, and domestic violence—and anyone else who finds it traumatic to have instruments placed in their vagina—will be particularly affected by the law, said Planned Parenthood. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014, about a third of pregnancies were terminated through the use of medication, with serious complications that required hospitalization occurring in less than 0.4 percent of patients.  

In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that would have shuttered clinics across the state by requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The 5-3 decision stated that the requirement created “a substantial obstacle” for women to terminate their pregnancies and violated the Constitution by establishing an “undue burden on abortion access.”  

The Arkansas law was initially blocked in 2016 by Federal District Court Judge Kristine G. Baker, until a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated her decision. Now that the Supreme Court has refused to hear PPAEO’s appeal, the case has been sent back to the lower courts, but the fight over the law could end up back in the hands of the nation’s top judges in the future.



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