Federal Judge Kristine Baker
today issued a preliminary injunction against the 2015 Arkansas law that aimed at ending abortions by medication in Arkansas.
Under the putative purpose of looking out for women's health, the legislature enacted a law that required the clinics that dispense miscarriage-inducing pills in the early stage of pregnancy to follow an old protocol for the drug widely viewed as less effective and also required the clinics to have a contract with a doctor with hospital admitting privileges. These requirements present such an obstacle to women seeking abortions well before viability of the fetus (up to the 9th week of a pregnancy) that they are unconstitutional, the judge held, based on evidence she's heard so far.
Planned Parenthood said:
... The law would impose severe and medically unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion, a very safe method of abortion if used early in pregnancy.
Statement from Dr. Stephanie Ho, Plaintiff and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland physician:
“It’s a relief to know that as this case proceeds I can continue to provide the highest quality of health care to a woman who comes to Planned Parenthood for safe and legal abortion care. No one should get inferior, outdated and less effective care from their physician.”
Statement from Suzanna de Baca, president & CEO, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland:
“We’re pleased that today’s decision allows women in Arkansas to, at least for time being, continue to access safe, legal abortion care at Planned Parenthood.
The judge had earlier entered a temporary restraining order to hear more arguments about the case brought by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Planned Parenthood said it could get no contracts with doctors because doctors feared political repercussions. Planned Parenthood operates two of the three clinics where abortions are provided in Arkansas. The only other provider also provides clinical abortions. Planned Parenthood has said it would have to stop providing medicinal abortions if the law took effect.
The judge noted that Planned Parenthood has two licensed physicians. One is licensed in Arkansas and she is supervised by a board-certified ob/gyn.
The judge noted that an end to drug abortions in Arkansas would force women who've used the Fayetteville Planned Parenthood clinic to make a 380-mile round trip to Little Rock to obtain a surgical abortion at the last provider in the state. They'll have to make the trip more than once because of another law requiring a 48-hour waiting period after an initial consultation.
The judge noted Planned Parenthood's testimony about information provided for home care and its testimony that complications were rare. It provides followup care and consultation. The judge noted that rare emergency complications are no different than those experienced by women in miscarriages who seek treatment at hospitals or from doctors. Planned Parenthood follows established medical protocols, the judge wrote.
The judge concluded that, if Planned Parenthood were made to follow the outdated drug protocol:
... women with gestational ages between 50 and 63 days LMP would not be able to access medication abortions, causing all of those women in Arkansas to have to travel to Little Rock to obtain a surgical abortion in Arkansas.
Each time these women travel to access abortion services, they will have to arrange the necessary funds, transportation, child care, and time off work required to travel.
There is evidence in the record before the Court that increased travel distances and costs – both monetary and otherwise – for those who must travel to a clinic multiple times to
obtain an abortion may cause women who otherwise would have obtained an abortion not to obtain one at all.
She also commented:
Inability to travel to the sole remaining clinic in the state will lead some women to take desperate measures, such as attempting to self-abort or seeking care from unsafe providers, which would further put their health at risk
She noted, too, that the legislature's demand to use an outdated drug protocol also said it couldn't be used past 49 days of a pregnancy. Many women don't discover a pregnancy until after 49 days, thus effectively banning medication abortions for those women, she said.
The judge said the legislative mandate on the drug had no exceptions where a physician judged it necessary to preserve a woman's life or health.
The 70-page decision delves deeply into competing arguments about medicine abortions and leans toward the Planned Parenthood side of the ledger. The legislature's justification for the different drug protocol, for example, was "inaccurate, incomplete, irrelevant, or outdated." The state asserted a risk of infections, but could find only eight infections in two million abortions and no proof those infections were related to use of the drugs. The record shows no deaths in 700,000 abortions using the preferred drug protocol. She said the state had produced no evidence to support its contention pills should be taken in the presence of a doctor.
The judge concluded that "the burden imposed by each of these provisions separately, or when analyzed together, would be undue and, therefore, unconstitutional."
She enjoined enforcement of the law and said the injunction would remain in effect until further order. Further evidence in the case could change her position.
Here's the full opinion.