Law & the Courts

SCOTUS Refuses to Hear Challenge to Arkansas Abortion Law

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law that prohibits the use of medication abortions and threatens to shutter two of the state’s three abortion clinics.

The 2015 law requires centers that provide abortion-inducing pills to maintain contracts with specialists who are admitted to practice at a hospital in the state.

Pro-choice activists have argued that the law is too burdensome to be complied with, citing the testimony of abortion-clinic personnel who claim they have been unable to find an admitted doctor willing to contract with their clinics.

Following the Supreme Court’s refusal to take up the case, Planned Parenthood said it would no longer provide medication abortions in the state pending further legal action.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” said Dawn Laguens, the group’s executive vice president. “This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state.”

One year after its passage, Judge Kristine G. Baker of the Federal District Court in Little Rock blocked the law, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.” That ruling was later vacated by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which took issue with Baker’s failure to detail how many women would lose access to abortion because of the law.

Arkansas’s Planned Parenthood affiliate argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that the law represented a de facto abortion ban for many women because the two state clinics that offer medication abortions were unable to find a doctor willing to contract with them.

“This will particularly affect women who strongly prefer medication abortion,” the group told the Supreme Court, “including those who find it traumatic to have instruments placed in their vaginas because they are victims of rape, incest, or domestic violence, as well as women for whom medication abortion is medically indicated and safer than surgical abortion.”

Arkansas attorney general Leslie Rutledge celebrated the ruling as victory for the unborn.

“I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood,” she said. “Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority.”

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