The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Supreme Court declines, abortion law back in lower court

Medication abortions allowed to resume during temporary restraining order

Published: June 21, 2018   
Courtesy United States District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas
The federal courthouse in Little Rock houses the office of U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker, who issued a temporary restraining order June 18 against an Arkansas law setting restrictions on medication abortions.

After the Supreme Court’s decision May 29 not to hear a case against an Arkansas abortion law, thus letting the state’s restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs stand, a temporary restraining order was filed June 18 by a federal judge barring the law from going into effect.

On June 8, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker heard arguments from Planned Parenthood, which requested a temporary injunction to briefly allow the abortion drugs. Baker issued a restraining order June 18, expiring on July 2, which would give Planned Parenthood time to ask for a renewed temporary order or a preliminary injunction, according to a June 19 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article. If an injunction is granted after additional evidence is discussed, it would allow medication abortions to continue until its constitutionality is decided, the article stated.

Currently, medication abortions are allowed to resume.

Diocesan Respect Life Office director Catherine Phillips said "as Catholics, we need to not be discouraged" by the ruling, but continue to advocate for life. 

"We need to continute to fearlessly bring light to the dark corners of the world. We need to continue to pray in front of the abortion center, we need to continue to help women who are in crisis pregnancy, we need to continue to support women or men who have been impacted by the grave sin of abortion," Phillips said. "Just to continue to faithfully give witness to our faith, so one day abortion, even if it remains legal, will not happen because people won’t choose it. So our real ministry is to change hearts and save lives." 

Rose Mimms, director of Arkansas Right to Life, an ecumenical nonprofit, told Arkansas Catholic June 19. "We’re disappointed, of course, but not surprised that Judge Baker would give them the go-ahead to begin doing these medication abortions again, bypassing the law the general assembly enacted back in 2015. It’s just another delay and unborn babies will die in the meantime and mothers will be subject to complications and risks.”

Following the Supreme Court decision May 29 to not review the appeal to the law, the National Right to Life organization said on its website that the court’s decision “has potentially nationwide implications” and Planned Parenthood, the group challenging the state’s law, said in a statement issued days before the Supreme Court decision that if the state’s law is upheld it could “embolden courts to uphold similar laws.”

The Arkansas law, called the Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act, was passed in 2015 and requires doctors who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to have a contract with another doctor who has hospital admitting privileges and who will agree to handle emergencies and admit patients to a nearby hospital if necessary. The drug, a cocktail of mifepristone and misoprostal, can terminate pregnancies up to 11 weeks.

Sponsors of the law described it as a safety measure to ensure that potential complications from the administered drugs could be quickly treated.

Mimms told Arkansas Catholic June 7 the staff was “very surprised” that the Supreme Court did not take up the case.

“We pass these pro-life laws for a reason. If we can’t end abortion, we want to try to protect women; Planned Parenthood certainly doesn’t want to protect them,” Mimms said, adding it was a “risky” procedure that has resulted in several deaths since medication abortion was legalized in 2000.

In a May 30 news release, Arkansas Right to Life stated those who take the pill could experience risks like excessive hemorrhaging, which could require a blood transfusion, and in rare cases C. Sordelli infection, pointing to two women in California who died from the infection. There were 556 medication abortions reported to the Arkansas Department of Health in 2016.

Mimms said, “This law could potentially, if we keep winning, close the Planned Parenthoods in Arkansas.”

Planned Parenthood sued to block the law, saying it was not medically necessary because women could go to the emergency room if they experienced complications. The Planned Parenthood affiliate that offered medically induced abortions at two Arkansas health clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville said these clinics could not find doctors willing to accept a contract and would be forced to close these clinics once law went into effect in mid-July. The Little Rock Family Planning Services clinic is still performing surgical abortions.

In its lawsuit, Planned Parenthood said the law placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

The Supreme Court, which wrapped up its current court session in June, announced without any explanation that it would not take on the challenge to the Arkansas abortion law.

In 2016, a federal trial judge blocked the Arkansas law from going into effect, questioning if the state’s restrictions provided medical benefits. Last year, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the lower court’s ruling to be lifted and sent the case back to the trial judge to find an estimate of how many women would be burdened by the requirement of having a physician contract. The appeals court allowed the stay to remain until the Supreme Court decided if it would hear the case.

The Arkansas law is much like a Texas law that the Supreme Court voted against two years ago.

In its 5-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down restrictions on Texas abortion clinics that required them to comply with standards of ambulatory surgical centers and required their doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups submitted a joint friend of the court brief supporting the Texas law.

The court’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, said restrictions on the clinics “provide few if any health benefits for women, pose a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitute an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so.”

The court’s current decision not to take up the Arkansas abortion restrictions prompted positive and negative reaction.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, praised the court’s move saying, “Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority. We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am attorney general.”

Rutledge had urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, saying in court papers: “There is no right to choose medication abortion.”

Dawn Laguens, a Planned Parenthood executive vice president, said the court’s action caused Arkansas to be “shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion.”

Carol Zimmermann contributed to this article.

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