The U.S. Supreme Court refused to block an Arkansas law that could effectively bar pill-induced abortions, turning away an appeal by two Planned Parenthood clinics that say the state would be left with only one abortion provider.
The rejection opens up the possibility that the 2015 measure will take effect soon, though the clinics will have another chance to stop it at a lower court level. The justices rejected the appeal in a one-line order, without any published dissent, suggesting the court's liberals made a tactical decision not to object publicly at this point.
The criminal law requires clinics that perform medication abortions to have a contractual relationship with a doctor who has admitting privileges at a hospital. The suing clinics say no obstetrician in the state will agree to the required contract.
The Planned Parenthood clinics, located in Little Rock and Fayetteville, offer only medication abortions, which can be performed until the ninth week of pregnancy. The state's only other clinic, also in Little Rock, performs surgical abortions as well and could continue those even if the law takes effect.
The rebuff marks a shift in fortunes for abortion-rights advocates, who in 2016 won a similar Supreme Court fight over a Texas law that threatened to shutter three-quarters of the state's clinics. Among the provisions the court invalidated was a requirement that abortion doctors get hospital admitting privileges.
The two Planned Parenthood clinics told the court the Arkansas case "presents virtually identical factual and legal issues" as the Texas case.
A federal trial judge blocked the law from taking effect, saying any health benefits were minor in comparison with the burden it would impose on women, some of whom would have to travel hundreds of miles to reach the remaining Little Rock clinic.
But a three-member appeals court panel set aside that order, saying the trial judge hadn't made crucial factual findings about how many women would forgo or postpone abortions because of the law.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, saying that "there is no right to choose medication abortion."
The case is Planned Parenthood of Arkansas & Eastern Oklahoma v. Jegley, 17-935.
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