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Federal Judge Holds Hearing on Arkansas Abortion Pill Limits

3 min read

LITTLE ROCK – Planned Parenthood told a federal judge Wednesday Arkansas’ new limits on the abortion pill will unconstitutionally restrict access to the procedure, while the state said the group waited until the 11th hour by challenging the restrictions days before they take effect.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker didn’t issue a ruling after hearing arguments over Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s request to temporarily block the law, which takes effect Friday.

The law approved by the majority-Republican Legislature in March requires abortion pill providers to follow guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It also requires doctors providing the pill to maintain a contract with another physician with admitting privileges at a hospital who agrees to handle any complications.

Planned Parenthood said it will no longer be able to offer the abortion pill at its Little Rock and Fayetteville health centers if the law takes effect, and the other abortion provider in the state will only be able to offer the procedure surgically.

“These provisions are unconstitutional because they will significantly reduce abortion access in the state, leaving only one abortion provider, and they will eliminate entirely the option of medication abortion,” Maithreyi Ratakonda, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, told Baker during the hearing. “And they will do all of this without any benefit to women’s health.”

Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen said Planned Parenthood hadn’t shown why the law needed to be blocked, and argued the organization made a “strategic decision” to wait until Monday, days before its effective date, to file the lawsuit.

“Anyone who was paying attention has known for almost a year now that Friday is the effective date of this act,” Jorgensen said.

Ratakonda said the date of the lawsuit’s filing wasn’t intentional and said Planned Parenthood had been trying through Monday morning to find physicians willing to contract with its doctors as required under the law. But the organization said that many doctors cited a fear of being stigmatized or harassed over being associated with an abortion provider, objections from employers or opposition to abortion.

The law was among several new abortion restrictions passed by the Legislature and signed into law by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson earlier this year. Supporters of the abortion pill restrictions said they would protect women’s health by barring non-federally approved uses of the drug, a practice commonly referred to as off-label.

But Planned Parenthood and other opponents of the law said it overrules doctors’ judgment and forces them to follow an outdated protocol. The new law will require women to take a higher dose of the medication than what is typically prescribed and restrict the time period for administering it from up to nine weeks to up to seven weeks.

But Jorgensen said the vast majority of FDA-approved prescription drugs are administered according to the protocol and said the seven-week limit on the drug wouldn’t prevent women having an abortion surgically.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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