Planned Parenthood Rejected by Supreme Court Over Arkansas Law

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Supreme Court let Arkansas start enforcing a law that effectively bars pill-induced abortions, turning away an appeal by two Planned Parenthood clinics and at least temporarily leaving the state with only one abortion provider.

The justices rejected the appeal in a one-line order, without any published dissent, suggesting the court’s liberals made a tactical decision not to object publicly at this point.

Planned Parenthood said in a statement it will immediately stop providing medication abortions in the state while also seeking an emergency order to again block the law. The organization will have another chance to overturn the law at the federal trial court level, and the case could return to the Supreme Court soon.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion," Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Federation of America executive vice president, said in an emailed statement. "This dangerous law also immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state."

The criminal law requires clinics that perform medication abortions to have a contractual relationship with a doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital. The suing clinics say no obstetrician in the state will agree to the required contract.

The Planned Parenthood clinics, located in Little Rock and Fayetteville, offer only medication abortions, which can be performed until the ninth week of pregnancy. The state’s only other clinic, also in Little Rock, performs surgical abortions as well and can continue those even as the law takes effect.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge applauded the court’s action.

"Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority," the Republican said in a statement. "We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am attorney general.”

The rebuff marks a shift in fortunes for abortion-rights advocates, who in 2016 won a similar Supreme Court fight over a Texas law that threatened to shutter three-quarters of the state’s clinics. Among the provisions the court invalidated was a requirement that abortion doctors get hospital admitting privileges.

The two Planned Parenthood clinics told the court the Arkansas case "presents virtually identical factual and legal issues" as the Texas case.

A federal trial judge blocked the law from taking effect, saying any health benefits were minor in comparison with the burden it would impose on women, some of whom would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the remaining Little Rock clinic.

But a three-member appeals court panel set aside that order, saying the trial judge hadn’t made crucial factual findings about how many women would forgo or postpone abortions because of the law. Arkansas will begin enforcing the law as soon as the appeals court issues a formal order returning the case to the trial court level, said Jessica Ray, a spokeswoman for Rutledge.

In court papers, Rutledge urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, saying that "there is no right to choose medication abortion."

The case is Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma v. Jegley, 17-935.

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