- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 31, 2015

A federal judge rang in the new year by blocking an Arkansas abortion law from going into effect Friday.

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker wrote Thursday evening that “for now” she found enforcing some sections in Act 577 would cause a threat of irreparable harm to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s two clinics and to their patients.

Her temporary restraining order, which expires Jan. 14, will permit scheduling of Planned Parenthood’s cases against the law, which requires abortion providers to follow federal rules on abortion-inducing drugs and to find backup doctors for their patients.

On Wednesday, Judge Baker heard attorneys for Planned Parenthood argue that the law must be stopped because it unconstitutionally hampers women’s access to abortion.

Attorneys for the state countered that the law upholds federal health and safety rules on abortion-inducing drugs and chided Planned Parenthood, the nation’s biggest abortion provider, for waiting until the last minute to try to block the law.

The law, enacted in March, seeks to require Arkansas abortion clinics to return to Food and Drug Administration protocols in dispensing pills that cause abortions.

Currently, the abortion industry uses a professionally preferred, off-label regimen in which a woman receives the abortion pill mifepristone — which kills the fetus — under doctor’s supervision, but takes home the dose of misoprostol that will cause her body to expel the dead fetus.

FDA rules say both kinds of pills should be administered under a doctor’s supervision, about 48 hours apart; it also recommends a higher dose of the mifepristone than abortion providers typically give.

Furthermore, the FDA limits use of abortion pills to pregnancies after seven weeks. Abortion clinics use the pills for a longer period — up to nine weeks of pregnancy.

Another contested part of the law is its requirement that an abortion doctor identify a backup doctor with local hospital-admitting privileges, so each patient can be given a physician’s name and hospital to use in emergencies.

The Arkansas law notes that more than 2,200 “adverse events” — including 14 deaths and 612 hospitalizations — have occurred with medication abortions since it was approved for use in September 2000. Ectopic pregnancies, sepsis and bleeding are among the possible complications.

Planned Parenthood attorneys argued Wednesday that medication abortions are very safe and that the law — which would require a third doctor visit — seeks illegally to discourage women from obtaining abortions.

The abortion provider also said it has tried in vain to get backup doctors. Because it can’t find anyone to sign up, it will have to cease offering medication abortions — the only kinds of abortions offered in its Fayetteville and Little Rock clinics.

Arkansas women would have to go to another abortion clinic in Little Rock for surgical abortions, attorneys told Judge Baker.

“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, said during the court hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Colin Jorgensen said Planned Parenthood hadn’t shown why the law needed to be blocked — especially because it was requiring abortion providers to follow federal health and safety rules.

He also argued that 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,” Mr. Jorgensen said.

Ohio, North Dakota and Utah also have laws requiring abortion providers to abide by FDA protocols, while Texas law adheres to some of the federal rules, the Guttmacher Institute said.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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