A federal judge in late December temporarily blocked an Arkansas law designed to limit access to medication abortion.
U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued the temporary restraining order following a lawsuit filed by attorneys on behalf of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which operates two clinics in the state. The lawsuit seeks to block portions of Act 577, known as the “Abortion-Inducing Drug Safety Act” that advocates allege would severely curtail access to medication abortion throughout the state.
The first provision the lawsuit challenges requires all physicians who provide medication abortion to have a signed contract with a physician who agrees to handle any patient complications and who maintains admitting privileges at a local hospital. The other portion of the law mandates doctors prescribing abortion-inducing medication follow only the specific protocol originally developed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and bans any deviation from that protocol, despite best medical practices that vary from that protocol.
The challenged provisions of Act 577 were scheduled to take effect January 1.
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The vast majority of medication abortion providers follow what advocates describe as “evidence-based protocol” for medication abortion that deviates from FDA regulations and allows providers to prescribe fewer doses of abortion-inducing medications and at a lower dosage rate, according to the allegations in the complaint.
Advocates claim in their lawsuit that this process is more effective and safer for patients than the regimen mandated by Act 577.
Planned Parenthood’s attorneys allege the provision of Act 577 that requires abortion doctors maintain a contractual relationship with another physician is difficult to meet for many reasons, including that it limits the number of medical practitioners who can be eligible backup providers.
As a result, attorneys allege, Planned Parenthood cannot meet the requirement. Because Planned Parenthood of the Heartland only provides medication abortion in Arkansas, should the provision take effect, it would force many patients to travel out of state to access care, and could push patients into later, more expensive surgical abortions if they can access them at all.
“It’s clear this law is part of a broader agenda to end access to safe, legal abortion entirely—and that’s what it would do for women outside of Little Rock,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “At Planned Parenthood, we will not back down and we will not shut our doors—which is why we are taking the state of Arkansas to court.”
The restraining order preventing the challenged provisions will stay in effect for two weeks until the court holds another hearing on the allegations in Planned Parenthood’s complaint.