January 12, 2016 — A federal judge on Monday extended a restraining order that temporarily blocks the enforcement of an Arkansas antiabortion-rights law (Act 577), KARK 4 News reports (Lanning, KARK 4 News, 1/11).
The law, which was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 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 The FDA protocol is no longer current and goes against common medical practice.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 law 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.
Last month, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit challenging the law's admitting privileges provision and requirement that providers administering medication abortion adhere to the outdated FDA standards.
PPH operates two clinics in Arkansas, both of which only offer medication abortion. The complaint 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 complaint 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 drive three hours to Little Rock Family Planning Services.
On Dec. 31, 2015, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a temporary restraining order that blocked for 14 days the enforcement of the two provisions that Planned Parenthood is challenging. Both the state attorney general's office and PPH requested that order be extended until March 14 (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/11).
Baker on Monday extended the temporary restraining order, blocking the law until March 14.
According to the Arkansas News Bureau/Southwest Times Record, the extension allows both parties to prepare briefs in favor or in opposition to a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of the law pending the lawsuit's resolution (Lyon, Arkansas News Bureau/Southwest Times Record, 1/11).