Supreme Court rejects challenge to Arkansas abortion law

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear a challenge to an Arkansas law that would impose restrictions on abortion pills, clearing the way for the measure to go into effect.

As is custom, the court did not provide an explanation as to why it refused to hear the appeal brought by Planned Parenthood, which warned that the law would make Arkansas the only state to effectively ban medication-induced abortions.

The measure, passed in 2015, imposes criminal penalties on doctors who provide medication-induced abortions unless they have a signed contract with a physician who has active admitting privileges at a hospital.

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Medication-induced abortion involves the combination of two pills, called mifepristone and misoprostol. Planned Parenthood said that in 2014 alone it accounted for 45 percent of all abortions in the U.S. before nine weeks gestation.

“Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) said Tuesday after the Supreme Court decision. “We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am Attorney General.”

Planned Parenthood had argued the law was strikingly similar to a measure in Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. That law required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, a requirement the court said constituted an undue burden on abortion access.

Rutledge maintained that the Arkansas law, known as the Abortion-Inducing Drugs Safety Act, only requires such abortion providers to have a contractual relationship with a physician in case follow-up treatment is needed.

Lawmakers said the law was needed to protect women's health, after finding that abortion-inducing drugs present significant medical risks, including abdominal pain, cramping, vomiting, headache, fatigue, uterine hemorrhage, viral infections and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Planned Parenthood said Tuesday it plans to take its case back down to the district court.

“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens said in a statement.

“This dangerous law immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state. If that’s not an undue burden, what is? This law cannot and must not stand.”

The district court had originally issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law, saying it would force clinics to stop offering abortion services.

But the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out that decision, saying the district court needed to determine how many women would be unduly burdened by the state's requirement.

In October, the appeals court granted Planned Parenthood’s request to put the ruling on hold while the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Pro-life advocates hailed the Supreme Court's decision on Tuesday, calling the court's refusal to take up the challenge to the Arkansas law a victory for women.

Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion group Students for Life of America, told The Hill she hopes legislators in all 50 states will take a look at health and safety standards designed to protect women.

“It’s up to legislators to decide which approach they want … This law merely said in an emergency there needs to be a plan in place to make sure women don’t bleed to death,” she said.

But NARAL Pro-Choice America argued the Arkansas law, and a separate state law requiring women to receive certain state-mandated information 48 hours before an abortion, could force some women to travel hundreds of miles to receive an abortion.

“Seven in 10 Americans believe that abortion should remain legal and accessible, yet the anti-choice GOP remains obsessed with ignoring the will of the people and using every tool at their disposal, including the courts, to chip away at our fundamental rights,” the group’s spokeswoman Kaylie Hanson Long said in a statement.

Updated: 7:35 p.m.