Arkansas patients who needed medication abortions were told they couldn’t have them this week. Planned Parenthood had to cancel these appointments after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge of a law that makes Arkansas the only state to effectively ban this method of abortion.
Medication abortion, often called the abortion pill, now makes up almost one-third of all abortions at eight weeks gestation or less. Centers for Disease Control data shows an increase in abortions earlier in pregnancies and a decrease in abortions performed at a later stage in pregnancy since medication abortion became available. Attorneys representing the state’s three abortion clinics filed for emergency relief to halt the law again, but until then patients in the state can’t have medication abortions.
The law clinics are fighting against, Act 577, which was passed in 2015, has been through a lengthy legal battle. Like many abortion restrictions, it uses onerous and unnecessary requirements to ensure patients are blocked from getting abortion care. The law requires that doctors who perform this method of abortion have a contract with a backup provider with admitting privileges at a hospital. Although Planned Parenthood has licensed physicians, they don’t have admitting privileges. The use of medication abortion also has to follow FDA protocol.
ANSIRH’s @DrDGrossman weighed in @EliteDaily on Arkansas abortion restrictions, which will be left in place after the Supreme Court declined to hear the case earlier this week.. https://t.co/OU9h87e2k2 pic.twitter.com/PptBdfFnek
— ANSIRH (@ANSIRH) May 31, 2018
The law is very similar to the Texas restrictions on abortion that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled were unconstitutional in 2016 in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case. Planned Parenthood sued to halt the 2015 Arkansas law from being enacted not long after the Supreme Court decision and a federal judge issued a restraining order. Then last year, the case Planned Parenthood of Arkansas v. Jegley, went the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled to lift the restraining order, after it said Planned Parenthood did not show the law was enough of an obstacle to prevent patients from accessing abortion. It said the case should be sent back to the lower court. By rejecting the appeal, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the district court and time has run out on the restraining order, which means Arkansas patients are out of luck.
Stephanie Ho, a physician at Planned Parenthood Great Plains in Fayetteville, Arkansas, told NBC News, “It’s incredibly disheartening to call a patient and say you qualified for this last week but your government says that’s a decision you no longer get to make.”
Two Planned Parenthood clinics and Family Planning Services offered medication abortions, but now the only abortion method patients can access is a surgical abortion, which is also more expensive than medication abortions, at Family Planning Services. That means a patient who once went to the Fayetteville Planned Parenthood clinic for an abortion will now have to go to Family Planning Services, which is in Little Rock — a 380-mile trip.
Although Arkansas’ 2015 law is much more restrictive, many states have limitations on medication abortion. Thirty-four states say only physicians can provide them, despite the fact that medication abortion is considered safe and very effective. The World Health Organization has recommended that physician assistants and advanced practice nurses can provide this method of abortion safely. Some states also require that clinicians be in the same room as the patient while prescribing medication abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The Supreme Court decision, announced on Tuesday, has major implications for patients across the country, as Ian Millhiser explained in ThinkProgress: “Looming over Jegley, moreover, is the possibility that Whole Woman’s Health could be reproductive freedom’s last stand in the federal courts.”