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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Parts of Ark. Medication Abortion Law

January 4, 2016 — A federal judge on Thursday issued an order that temporarily blocks the enforcement of an Arkansas antiabortion-rights law (HB 1394), Reuters reports.

The law was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 (Barnes, Reuters, 12/31/15). Background

The law requires that medication abortion drugs be prescribed in accordance with guidelines and dosage limits that were set by FDA when the drugs were initially approved. The FDA protocol is no longer current and goes against common medical practice.

Specifically, the law requires providers to administer a dose higher than what is commonly prescribed. In addition, under the law, medication abortions cannot be administered past seven weeks of pregnancy, rather than the nine-week limit that is used in practice.

The bill also stipulates that only physicians can provide medication abortion drugs to patients. It requires such physicians to have a contract with another physician who has agreed to handle any complications. The second physician must have admitting and gynecological/surgical privileges at a nearby hospital that can handle such cases.

Providers found in violation of the requirements could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face civil penalties and disciplinary action (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/6/15).

Lawsuit Details

Last month, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit challenging the law. In court documents, the organization said it had "exhausted all [its] connections" looking for physicians with the appropriate admitting privileges. The lawsuit said all but two physicians "either refused to call us back or told us they could not contract with (Planned Parenthood) because of fear of stigma and harassment from being associated with an abortion provider; employers or partners did not want to be associated with an abortion provider; or because they do not support a woman's right to choose."

In addition, the lawsuit challenges the law's requirement that providers administering medication abortion adhere to the outdated FDA standards.

According to the Arkansas  Democrat-Gazette, PPH operates two clinics in Arkansas, both of which only offer medication abortion. The lawsuit states that the only other provider in the state, Little Rock Family Planning Services, will discontinue medication abortion and offer only surgical abortion if the law is not blocked. The lawsuit added that if the Planned Parenthood clinic in Fayetteville closes, Arkansas women would "lose access to a safe, early method of abortion using medications alone." For abortion care, their only option would be to take a three-hour drive to Little Rock Family Planning Services (Roberts, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 12/28/15).

Latest Developments

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker on Dec. 31, 2015, issued a temporary restraining order that blocks for 14 days the enforcement of the two provisions that Planned Parenthood is challenging, the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports. In the ruling, Baker wrote that "for now" she found that enforcing the challenged provisions posed a greater threat of irreparable harm to Planned Parenthood patients and the clinics than did any potential harm stemming from not implementing the law (Lauer, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/31/15).

Baker commented that "in the case of medication abortion, any benefit of admitting privileges in terms of continuity of care is incrementally small" (Reuters, 12/31/15). In addition, she said the FDA-approved regimen for administering medication abortion "does not appear to be the current standard of care" (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/31/15). According to Baker, state law appeared to be based on "inaccurate, incomplete, irrelevant, or outdated" data (Reuters, 12/31/15).

Comments

PPH spokesperson Susan Allen said, "It is inexcusable (lawmakers) so willingly ignore the best medical evidence and practice, solely to achieve their own goals." She added, "For women, this isn't about politics -- it's about having the ability to make their own medical decisions, and for their doctors to be able to provide the care that is best for them."

Separately, Judd Deere, a spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), said the state is interpreting Baker's ruling to apply to only the Planned Parenthood clinics. According to Deere, the full law will be enforced at the third clinic, located in Little Rock (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 12/31/15).