On Tuesday, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to a controversial Arkansas anti-abortion law, paving the way for the the state to become the first to effectively ban abortion medication in the U.S.
Arkansas' Act 577, also known as the Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act, requires health providers who offer abortion medication, i.e. "the abortion pill," to have a contract with a second doctor with hospital admitting privileges. The idea is for a second physician to be available in case something goes wrong, even though oft-cited research shows than less than 1% of women suffer serious side effects or a failed abortion after taking the medication.
The 2015 law is nearly identical to Texas' controversial HB2 restrictions, which the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional in the 2016 ruling of Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. That's why, nine months after the ban passed, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland sued to block it. At the time, a federal judge in Little Rock issued a temporary restraining order because of the law's similarities to Texas HB2. But then, the case came before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in the summer of 2017 ruled the restraining order should be lifted and the case should be sent back down to the lower court.
When the Supreme Court rejected the appeal Tuesday, it allowed the restraining order to lapse and the case now goes back to the district court. Planned Parenthood asked the court on Tuesday night for a new temporary restraining order to block the law. If no other legal action is taken, Act 577 will take effect in mid-July.
"We are deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to deny Arkansas women the opportunity to be heard. Act 577 is the triumph of politicians over science, and it’s women who will suffer as a result," Dr. Brandon Hill, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains, said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "Its requirements are dangerous and medically unnecessary, and they are nothing more than a repackaged version of the restrictions struck down by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health."
The sweeping regulations of HB2 led to the closure of about two dozen of the 44 clinics in Texas. By the time Supreme Court ruled against it, the damage was done. Laws like HB2 and Act 577 are part of a wave of abortion restrictions known targeted regulation of abortion providers, or TRAP laws. The purpose of these regulations is to curb abortions by forcing providers to comply with nearly impossible regulations.
"TRAP laws are almost impossible for clinics to comply with and can lead to the closure of the facilities. So patients have to travel farther, it costs more money to arrange transportation or take days off from work and arrange childcare. But also leaving fewer clinics increases the [overcrowding] of remaining clinics," Dr. Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California at San Francisco and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, told Refinery29 earlier this year. "This is what we saw in Texas, where as clinics closed particularly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the wait time to get an appointment at the remaining clinics increased to three weeks or even longer. Obviously, that pushes women [to seek care] later and later in the pregnancy."
At the moment, Arkansas has only three clinics offering abortion services — two of them Planned Parenthood affiliates and an independent one. But the organization has argued in their lawsuits that no physicians have agreed to enter into a contract with them to fulfill the secondary doctor requirement imposed by Act 577, so their two clinics might close. Little Rock Family Planning, the independent provider, would stay open.
If that happens, Arkansas will join Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming as the eight state to have only one abortion clinic to serve all of its patients.
Having only one abortion provider in Arkansas, combined with the state's 48-hour waiting period for the procedure, will mean that some women will have to travel up to 760 miles over the required two round trips to obtain an abortion.
Hill, the Planned Parenthood Great Plains CEO, said in his statement that the battle is not over for the organization.
"We are working urgently to restore access to medication abortion services at our health centers in Fayetteville and Little Rock," he said. "We will not stop fighting to ensure that every woman has access to essential, constitutionally-protected care, without politicians controlling when, how or why."