In a case that has implications for Missouri, Planned Parenthood has asked a federal court for a restraining order to block an Arkansas law that effectively bans medication abortions.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up Planned Parenthood's challenge to the law, which requires abortion providers to contract with back-up physicians with hospital admitting privileges. Planned Parenthood says it has sought in vain to find such physicians
Medication abortions involve a combination of two pills. The woman takes the first at an abortion clinic and typically takes the second at home. Complications from the procedure are rare, with fewer than 1 in 400 patients requiring hospitalization.
Planned Parenthood says the Supreme Court’s decision forced it to cancel scheduled medication abortions and will prevent a quarter of the women seeking the procedure in Arkansas from obtaining it.
Planned Parenthood says the Arkansas requirement is medically unnecessary and places an undue burden on women seeking to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.
A federal judge in Arkansas blocked the law, but the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision and required the judge to make additional findings about how many women would be impacted by the requirement. The Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
Missouri has a similar regulation that requires abortion providers to contract with ob-gyns with hospital admitting privileges. As it did in Arkansas, Planned Parenthood has sued to block it. The case is pending.
Because the Eighth Circuit also covers Missouri, its ruling in the Arkansas case means that Planned Parenthood will have to present evidence of how many women stand to be affected by Missouri’s requirement.
The federal judge overseeing the Missouri case, Beth Phillips, last year refused to issue a temporary restraining order blocking it. Although she said she had “serious doubts” the requirement produced any benefits to women or the state, she also said Planned Parenthood had not demonstrated it could not comply with the regulation.
But if Planned Parenthood’s experience in Arkansas is any guide, that may be easier said than done. A declaration filed Tuesday by one of the plaintiffs in the Arkansas case, Dr. Stephanie A. Ho, says Planned Parenthood tried to comply with Arkansas’ back-up physician requirement by contacting ob-gyns throughout the state. But it says no physician was willing to contract with it.
“Some physicians or group practices informed us that they do not support a woman’s right to access abortion and would not help us,” Ho stated in her declaration.
“Others stated that they simply could not work with us, and at some group practices, the front deskstaff was so hostile once they heard that we were calling from Planned Parenthood that they would not even let us speak to the physicians and refused to take messages.”
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies