After two days of expert testimony, U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction of Act 577, a law that effectively prevented abortion providers in Arkansas from administering medication abortions.
“Section 1504(d) causes ongoing and imminent irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and their patients,” Baker said in her ruling, pointing out that the law would force Planned Parenthood’s two clinics in the state to stop providing medication abortions—leaving only one abortion clinic standing in the state, and leaving women across Arkansas with only the option of a surgical abortion. “Those women who live in Northwest Arkansas and seek a medication abortion are now faced with the prospect of making two 380-mile round trips to Little Rock for a surgical abortion.”
This is not the first time Baker has attempted to block the heavily restrictive law, which requires doctors providing abortion pills to have a contract with a physician that holds admitting and OB/GYN privileges at a hospital—while also agreeing to handle any potential complications from a medication abortion. (Planned Parenthood told the Associated Press they have been unable to find any physicians willing to contract with their facilities, and Baker said it was unlikely they ever would, as any doctor who did would face threats to their livelihood.)
Just two weeks ago, Baker issued a temporary block of the law. In March of 2016, she issued an injunction that was later dissolved by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which directed her “to obtain more specifics on the number of women the law would affect and whether the burdens it imposes on those women are so severe that they outweigh the law’s benefits and the state’s interest in regulating abortion.”
Common arguments for the heavy restriction of women’s access to medication abortion, like that of Arkansas, are often promoted as health and safety concerns. Similar TRAP laws have been used in other states and made it extremely difficult for those seeking an abortion to receive proper care. (See: HB2 in Texas.) Groups like Plan C, an awareness campaign that engages in partnerships for research, education and action related to improving on abortion pill access in the United States, have been fighting restrictive laws based on misconceptions like Act 577.
Abortion pills were approved by the FDA almost two decades ago and have been deemed a safe and effective option by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Self-administration of the pills has even been endorsed by the World Health Organization, and studies around the world have found that women suffer few complications taking the pills at home. Yet FDA requirements—fueled not by medical recommendation but political necessity—have forced access out of women’s hands in the U.S.
“There is stigma surrounding abortion pills in the United States, because there is stigma about abortion in general,” Victoria Nichols, a representative of Plan C, wrote in an email to Ms. “Plus, many people are misinformed about the safety and effectiveness of the pills. Some still incorrectly equate medication abortion to self-induction methods of the past—ones that did pose serious risk.”
For Nichols, access to the abortion pill is a no brainer for the health, safety and bodily autonomy of those seeking to end an early-term pregnancy. “If an individual finds themselves pregnant and doesn’t want to be, they deserve access to all safe and effective health technologies for early-term care,” she wrote. “The abortion pill not only provides this, but offers an option that is convenient, confidential and puts control over one’s body back in the hands of the individual.”