Federal judge again blocks Arkansas medication abortion law
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday again blocked Arkansas from enforcing a law that critics say makes the state the first in the nation to effectively ban abortion pills.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker granted a 14-day temporary restraining order preventing Arkansas from enforcing the restriction on how abortion pills are administered. The law says doctors who provide the pills must hold a contract with a physician with admitting privileges at a hospital who agrees to handle any complications.
The U.S. Supreme Court last month rejected Planned Parenthood’s appeal to reinstate Baker’s earlier order blocking the law. Planned Parenthood said its two facilities and another unaffiliated clinic in Little Rock have stopped offering medication abortions because of the restriction.
Even with justices saying as recently as three weeks ago that Arkansas could enforce the law, Baker said Monday that circumstances have changed since her initial ruling.
“The last time this Court examined the facts of this dispute was on March 14, 2016, over two years ago,” Baker wrote. She said that, with a request for a temporary restraining order, she had to weigh the circumstances at the time the request was made.
The Arkansas attorney general’s office said the ruling is inconsistent with an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that blocked Baker’s initial order.
“Attorney General (Leslie) Rutledge is disappointed in Judge Baker’s decision to issue a temporary restraining order against an Arkansas law that protects the health of pregnant women,” spokeswoman Jessica Ray said. “Judge Baker’s ruling allows Planned Parenthood and Little Rock Family Planning Clinic to administer medication abortions without the necessary safety net available for women who experience emergencies and complications.”
But Bettina Brownstein, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, said Baker ruled correctly.
“Unbelievably detailed, rigorous, thorough. And, of course right. Addresses 8th Circuit’s concern,” she wrote in a brief email to The Associated Press.
Planned Parenthood had appealed an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that said Baker failed initially to determine how many women would be unduly burdened by the law and whether they constitute a “large fraction” of women seeking medication abortions in the state. Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer surgical abortions at its facilities, while a third facility not affiliated with the group — Little Rock Family Planning Services — does. Planned Parenthood said it has been unable to find any physicians willing to contract with its facilities.
Baker said Monday that it was unlikely they ever would, finding evidence that doctors would face threats to their safety and their livelihoods if they aided abortion providers and determining there was a “widespread animus” toward abortion among people who work at hospitals.
Arkansas’ law is similar to a provision in Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.
In her findings Monday, Baker said that, as an example, women in northwestern Arkansas who no longer could go to a clinic to obtain medication abortions faced a pair of 380-mile round trips to Little Rock to obtain a surgical abortion. Court documents said Little Rock Family Planning provided 92 medication abortions and 2,334 surgical abortions during 2017.
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