The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law that effectively blocks medication abortions, leaving the fate of a similar Missouri law up in the air.
A medication abortion is a procedure involving a combination of two pills. The woman takes the first at an abortion clinic and typically takes the second at home. Complications from the procedure are rare, with fewer than 1 in 400 patients requiring hospitalization.
Both Arkansas and Missouri require medication abortion providers to contract with a back-up physician who has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Planned Parenthood challenged the Arkansas law as medically unnecessary, and a federal judge blocked it from taking effect. But a three-judge panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, saying the lower court had failed to tally the number of women burdened by the statute.
The Supreme Court’s unwillingness to review the Eighth Circuit’s holding leaves the law in place and will make Arkansas the first state in the nation to ban medication abortions.
That’s because Planned Parenthood says it can’t find Arkansas physicians willing to contract with medication abortion providers. The organization says the physicians fear harassment and possible violence directed at them and their families.
That has also been the case in Missouri, where a state regulation enacted last year requires medication-abortion providers to contract with an ob-gyn who has admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Just as it did in Arkansas, Planned Parenthood sued last year to block Missouri’s regulation. At a hearing last month, U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips heard evidence in the case and is expected to issue a ruling soon.
In a statement, Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operates 12 health centers in Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, called the Arkansas law “the triumph of politicians over science” and said “it’s women who will suffer as a result.”
“Its requirements are dangerous and medically unnecessary, and they are nothing more than a repackaged version of the restrictions struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health,” Hill said.
He was referring to a Texas law struck down by the high court in 2016. In that case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court found two abortion restrictions unconstitutional. One required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearly hospitals and the other required abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers.
Hill said Planned Parenthood would seek emergency relief in federal court to restore medication abortion services at its clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock by providing the evidence the Eighth Circuit has demanded.
Dilara Yilmaz, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said that for the time being, Planned Parenthood is notifying Arkansas patients scheduled to have medication abortions that they won’t be able to undergo the procedure.
Those patients who were planning to have a medication abortion in Fayetteville will now have to make a 380-mile round trip to Little Rock, where Planned Parenthood operates a clinic that offers surgical abortions, or else go out of state to obtain one.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.