’15 abor­tion rules by state free of stay

8th Cir­cuit faults judge’s guess in ’16

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN MORITZ

A panel of fed­eral ap­peals court judges ruled Fri­day that Arkansas can go ahead with im­ple­ment­ing a 2-yearold law that Planned Par­ent­hood says will re­strict abor­tion ac­cess to a sin­gle clinic in the state.

The use of that law, the Abor­tion In­duc­ing Drugs Safety Act, has been held up since Jan. 1, 2016, by a U.S. dis­trict judge in Lit­tle Rock who said she was con­cerned with the num­ber of women who might forgo abor­tions be­cause of the law’s strict stan­dards.

But three judges on the 8th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in St. Louis said Fri­day that the dis­trict judge, Kris­tine Baker, had to first make a more com­plete guess at the num­ber of women bur­dened by the law be­fore halt­ing it from tak­ing ef­fect.

The Abor­tion In­duc­ing Drugs Safety Act, or Act 577 of 2015, re­quires doc­tors who ad­min­is­ter med­i­cal abor­tions through pills to con­tract with a physi­cian with ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at a hospi­tal.

Planned Par­ent­hood’s two clin­ics in the state of­fer only

med­i­ca­tion abor­tions . The group says that when the law takes ef­fect, the clin­ics would have to stop per­form­ing the pro­ce­dure.

The higher court va­cated Baker’s in­junc­tion of the law and sent the mat­ter back to her court for more fact find­ing.

Within 14 to 21 days, the ap­peals court will is­sue a man­date al­low­ing the law to take ef­fect, said a spokesman for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Les­lie Rut­ledge. Rut­ledge praised the de­ci­sion.

Mean­while, Planned Par­ent­hood clin­ics in Lit­tle Rock and Fayet­teville will con­tinue to of­fer abor­tion ser­vices for now, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the group.

A third clinic in Arkansas, Lit­tle Rock Fam­ily Plan­ning Ser­vices, of­fers sur­gi­cal abor­tions that are not af­fected by Act 577’s re­quire­ments.

Ac­cord­ing to the Arkansas Depart­ment of Health, 556 pill-in­duced abor­tions were per­formed in Arkansas last year.

To­gether with an­other law set to go into ef­fect Tues­day ban­ning the most widely used sec­ond- trimester abor­tion pro­ce­dure, more than a third of the 3,207 abor­tions per­formed in the state last year were done with pro­ce­dures that are set to be out­lawed.

The ban on the sec­ond-trimester abor­tion pro­ce­dure, as well as sev­eral other abor­tion laws en­acted by the Leg­is­la­ture this year, are the sub­ject of a sep­a­rate law­suit now in Baker’s court. She is ex­pected to make a de­ci­sion in that case in the next sev­eral days.

Abor­tion-rights ad­vo­cates de­cried the 8th Cir­cuit’s rul­ing Fri­day, paint­ing the law’s re­quire­ments as “med­i­cally un­nec­es­sary.” Planned Par­ent­hood of the Great Plains, the plain­tiff in the suit, said in a state­ment that it was eval­u­at­ing its le­gal op­tions.

Rut­ledge, the Repub­li­can at­tor­ney gen­eral, and anti-abor­tion groups in­clud­ing the Fam­ily Coun­cil ex­pressed sat­is­fac­tion with the de­ci­sion, which they ar­gued helps en­sure abor­tions are safe for women.

The 8th Cir­cuit’s opin­ion, writ­ten by Ap­peals Court Judge Ray­mond Gru­en­der, said Baker’s rul­ing to halt the law “fo­cused on amor­phous groups of women” who would be forced to travel long dis­tances to re­ceive abor­tions in Lit­tle Rock.

While most abor­tion seek­ers in Arkansas al­ready have to travel to Lit­tle Rock, Baker’s rul­ing said that the law would re­quire women in the “Fayet­teville area” to travel 380 miles round trip for the pro­ce­dure.

Be­cause an ear­lier Arkansas law re­quires all abor­tion pa­tients to con­sult with the doc­tor in per­son at least two days be­fore the pro­ce­dure, Baker said women would have to make two trips.

But Baker “failed to es­ti­mate the num­ber of women who would forgo abor­tions,” or de­lay the pro­ce­dure, risk­ing com­pli­ca­tions, the higher court said. It or­dered her to do so.

Ac­cord­ing to court records, the Planned Par­ent­hood clinic in Fayet­teville per­formed 303 pill-in­duced abor­tions in 2014.

In her ini­tial rul­ing, Baker said the state’s ar­gu­ment that the law pro­tected women from un­safe prac­tices failed to out­weigh the po­ten­tial harm caused by re­duc­ing ac­cess to abor­tions. The 8th Cir­cuit opin­ion did rule on the po­ten­tial ben­e­fits of the law, but a foot­note ques­tioned the way Baker reached her de­ci­sion.

Planned Par­ent­hood ar­gued in court records that it had tried, and failed, to find physi­cians who would con­tract with abor­tion clin­ics un­der the re­quire­ments of the law. The group says its doc­tors al­ready con­sult with emer­gency rooms if there are com­pli­ca­tions, and can re­fer pa­tients to other clin­ics or health cen­ters.

“Let’s be clear, laws like this one have no ba­sis in qual­ity pa­tient care and are in­tended to end ac­cess to safe, le­gal abor­tion,” said Planned Par­ent­hood of the Great Plains Pres­i­dent Laura McQuade in a state­ment. “Ide­o­log­i­cal ex­trem­ists in the state­house, not med­i­cal ex­perts, de­sign these poli­cies that have no ba­sis in med­i­cal science.”

Rut­ledge, in a state­ment re­leased through her spokesman, promised to con­tinue to de­fend the “com­mon sense law.”

Baker has yet to ac­tu­ally rule on the mer­its of the case be­fore her, in which Planned Par­ent­hood ar­gues Act 577 is an un­con­sti­tu­tional in­fringe­ment on abor­tion rights.

The judge’s in­junc­tion al­lowed her to pre­vent the law from go­ing into ef­fect while she con­sid­ered the op­pos­ing ar­gu­ments made in her court in March 2016. Baker has not said when she will is­sue a fi­nal rul­ing.

Orig­i­nally, Planned Par­ent­hood had ad­di­tion­ally con­tested a sec­tion of Act 577 that re­quired providers of the abor­tion pill to com­ply with U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion pro­to­col, which Planned Par­ent­hood ar­gued was out­dated.

In March 2016, the FDA up­dated its rules, and the is­sue be­came moot.

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