LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to let Arkansas enforce a law that critics say effectively bans abortion pills in the state is a setback for abortion rights supporters who have been fighting a wave of restrictions in the predominantly Republican state. The court fight over that restriction and others is far from over.
The nation's high court last week rejected an appeal from Planned Parenthood, which wanted justices to reverse an appeals court ruling and reinstate a lower court order that blocked the law from taking effect. The law says doctors who provide the abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications — and Planned Parenthood says it has been unable to find any able to do so.
The legal fight doesn't end, but the ruling means Arkansas can enforce the law for the time being. Planned Parenthood said it has started telling patients they couldn't access medication abortions because of the ruling and has asked for a new temporary restraining order from the lower court. A federal judge plans to hold a hearing on that request Friday morning.
The courts have essentially been a revolving door for legal fights over abortion limits in Arkansas since Republicans took control of the state Legislature six years ago. Here's where other cases over Arkansas' efforts to ban or restrict the procedure stand:
4 ABORTION RESTRICTIONS
Arkansas is appealing a judge's 2017 decision to prevent the state from enforcing four new abortion restrictions, including a ban on a common second trimester procedure and a fetal remains law that opponents say would effectively require a partner's consent before a woman could get an abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights had sued over the restrictions. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker, the same judge who had blocked the abortion pill limits, issued a preliminary injunction against the abortion restrictions days before they were set to take effect. The measures blocked also include part of a law that would have banned abortions based solely on the fetus' sex and a requirement that physicians performing abortions for patients under age 14 take certain steps to preserve embryonic or fetal tissue and notify police where the minor resides. Opponents of the restrictions say they would make it nearly impossible for many women in the state to get an abortion.
Attorneys for Planned Parenthood and another abortion clinic in Little Rock not affiliated with the group have asked a federal judge to strike down a law requiring the suspension or revocation of their licenses for any violation. The ACLU is representing Little Rock Family Planning Services in the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. didn't rule last year after a hearing on the clinics' challenge to the law, which the abortion providers say singles them out in an unconstitutional manner. The state already had the discretion to revoke or suspend the clinics' licenses on a case-by-case basis before the law was enacted. The abortion providers this year renewed their request for a ruling in the case after Moody scheduled a trial over the law for 2019.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year upheld Arkansas' decision to block Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group. The full 8th Circuit in November said it wouldn't reconsider a decision by a panel of its judges to vacate the preliminary injunction issued by Baker that prevented Arkansas from suspending Medicaid payments for services rendered to patients in the state. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued after Gov. Asa Hutchinson made the defunding decision in 2015. The case is now back before Baker after Planned Parenthood asked the judge earlier this year to issue a new injunction. The organization has asked that the injunction be issued on new grounds: that the defunding move violates the constitutional rights of Planned Parenthood and its patients.