The U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal May 29 to hear Planned Parenthood’s challenge of an Arkansas abortion law could allow the Natural State to become the first state to effectively outlaw medication-induced abortions.
“I am thankful for the discernment used by the U.S. Supreme Court to not address this issue,” Sonny Tucker, executive director of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, told Baptist Press (BP) via email. “The regulation in question is a common sense regulation to protect people from an industry that wants unfettered access to abortion at will, without the normal medical protocol in which other medical professions must abide.”
A 2015 Arkansas law – which requires doctors who provide medication abortions to contract with a specialist with hospital admitting privileges to handle complications – was temporarily blocked by a federal judge in 2016. But a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling last year, stating the district judge erred by not determining how many women would be unduly burdened by the law, according to media reports.
The Supreme Court’s denial of an appeal by Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma means the law will take effect in mid-July if no other legal challenges are filed, CNN reported.
In 2016, the Supreme Court overturned a similar law in Texas by a 5-3 majority. In today’s order, however, not even the court’s liberal judges published a dissent.
Planned Parenthood said it has offered pills to terminate pregnancies in Fayetteville and Little Rock but cannot find any Arkansas obstetricians willing to handle hospital admissions for women with complications, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. The nation’s largest abortion provider will stop providing medication abortions in Arkansas at least temporarily, Planned Parenthood told media outlets, and seek emergency relief from the 8th Circuit ruling in a lower court.
“Arkansas is now shamefully responsible for being the first state to ban medication abortion,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s executive vice president, 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. We will not stop fighting for every person’s right to safe, legal abortion.”
The medication abortions referenced in Arkansas’ law employ two drugs to kill an unborn child early in pregnancy: Mifepristone makes it difficult for the child to attach to the uterine wall, and misoprostol causes the mother’s body to expel the baby.
According to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, medication abortions accounted for nearly a third (31 percent) of all nonhospital abortions in the U.S. in 2014 and 45 percent of all abortions before nine weeks’ gestation.
Arkansas Baptist State Convention President Greg Sykes told BP, “Arkansas has enough challenges without failing to protect the most vulnerable – the unborn. I’m grateful that we are finally crafting laws that protect our children, and I know Southern Baptists are going to continue to seek ways to protect all children and help them to experience one of God’s most precious gifts: life.
“Legal wins in our generation are rare, but we’ll gladly rejoice at this one,” Sykes, pastor of First Baptist Church in Russellville, said in an email.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)