Arkansas is making national headlines after the United States Supreme Court made it possible for a controversial abortion law to go into effect. Thursday, the nation's highest court refused to hear a challenge, from Planned Parenthood, that could result in the ending of abortion services at two of the state's three abortion clinics.
In 2015, the State of Arkansas passed a law that required any physician who administers or prescribes an abortion-inducing drug to have a contract with a physician who can admit patients at a nearby hospital to monitor possible complications. Planned Parenthood, whose doctors prescribe the drug, challenged the law, which went all the way to the nation's highest court. Because they refused to hear the case, the law will go into effect.
Leaving the more than 500 women who rely upon the medication each year in Arkansas, with few options.
"Death by a million cuts, except we don't plan to die,” said Christina Mullinax, the Arkansas Organizer for Planned Parenthood Great Plains.
The organization is calling Arkansas Act 577 and the Supreme Court's decision not to hear its challenge another blow to women' reproductive rights in the state.
"It was heart wrenching, because I understand what a huge loss this is for the patients in our state that rely on us for medication abortion,” Mullinax said.
The 2015 law, called the "Abortion-inducing Drugs Safety Act, was written under the guise of safety. It requires abortion-providing facilities to have a contract with a doctor, who has admitting privileges at a local hospital. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “a first-trimester abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and carries minimal risk: Major complications (those requiring hospital care, surgery or transfusion) occur at a rate of less than 0.5%.” However, Planned Parenthood couldn’t get any doctors to consent.
"It wasn't necessarily a surprise to me that we were unable to find a provider that would contract with us because we've been painted as very controversial, to the point that a lot of providers are just unwilling to put their name out there as associated with Planned Parenthood unfortunately,” Mullinax explained of the situation.
She said abortion is only a small fraction of the services provided at Planned Parenthood.
"The majority of our services are preventative. Birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, transgender care, we offer primary care as well. So we are going to continue to keep our doors open. The only difference is that we won't be able to provide anymore medication abortion."
Medication-induced abortion is the only form of abortion provided at Planned Parenthood in Arkansas. Surgical abortions, the only other option, are provided at one facility in Little Rock... Forcing women to choose between surgery and traveling to another state. When Federal Judge, Kristine Baker, blocked the Act in 2016, she said the act caused "undue burden, forcing women to seek "an inferior regimen." The case was then sent to the 8th Circuit and challenged to the Supreme Court. Because SCOTUS wouldn't hear the case, it will be argued in the lower courts. Mullinax said the legal battle is far-from-over.
"We are going to continue to pursue every legal option that's open to us to fight against this,” she told me finally.
The State is now free to enforce the law, at least for the time being.
Governor Asa Hutchinson called the decision, "good news for those who are concerned about health and safety in the administration of medically-induced abortions."
He said it also "underscores the importance and necessity of protecting women, as well as the unborn, with common-sense measures."
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, whose office has been defending the law in court told us, "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."
Supporters of Planned Parenthood are planning to picket Wednesday.