To: Interested Parties
From: Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Date: May 23, 2018
Re: A case of déjà vu, abortion, & the Supreme Court
On Thursday, the Supreme Court will first review Planned Parenthood’s petition in Planned Parenthood vs. Jegley. If the Supreme Court rejects our petition — which may happen as early as Tuesday, May 29 — Arkansas could become the first state in the country to effectively ban medication abortion. It could also end access to safe, legal abortion in all but one health center in the state. Even worse, it could embolden courts to uphold similar laws, with harmful consequences for women. Not only is the Arkansas law at issue dangerous for women — it’s blatantly unconstitutional.
A dangerous case of déjà vu
The Arkansas law under review requires physicians who provide medication abortion —a very safe method of early abortion — to have a signed contract with a backup provider who has admitting privileges at a hospital. Sound familiar? It should. This law is nearly identical to a Texas law the Supreme Court already struck down in Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. As a result, Texas-style laws like those requiring hospital admitting privileges fell in states like Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
When Arkansas politicians tried to enact a similar admitting-privileges requirement, a federal district court recognized this for what it was — a medically unnecessary law that would burden women. Yet the Eighth Circuit disagreed. As Dorothy Samuels, a senior fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, wrote: “The panel’s decision has the whiff of judicial defiance.” The Arkansas law remains blocked while the Supreme Court reviews Planned Parenthood’s petition.
Extreme burden on women
If the Supreme Court does not intervene, women in Arkansas could be left with only one health center in the state that provides safe, legal abortion and a ban on medication abortion. Women in Fayetteville would have to travel 760 miles over the course of several days to access abortion in Little Rock. For many women, this would effectively ban safe, legal abortion altogether — because of the burdensome costs of time off from work, child care, and travel over multiple days. As a result, for at least 20-25 percent of women in Fayetteville seeking abortion, abortion would be completely inaccessible.
These burdens have a disproportionate impact on those who already face far too many barriers to health care — including people of color, people who live in rural areas, young people, or those with low incomes. For some, leaving the state for care is not an option and they would be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.
Arkansas is not alone
Politicians in Missouri and Louisiana also continue to push restrictions nearly identical to those struck down in Whole Woman’s Health. Already, women in Missouri are choosing to go to states like Illinois to access safe, legal abortion because of the enormous barriers in their home state. For example, in Springfield — Missouri’s third most populous city — women have to make two 300-mile trips to access a safe, legal abortion. That’s an eight-hour round drive over multiple days. The Fifth Circuit is also considering whether it will enforce a Louisiana hospital admitting-privileges law in a case brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights. In recent years, Louisiana has closed most health centers that provide safe, legal abortion — leaving women with only three health centers in the entire state, down from 11.
If the Supreme Court rejects Planned Parenthood’s petition and allows the Eighth Circuit to ignore the precedent set in Whole Woman’s Health, it could embolden courts to uphold similar restrictions, with devastating consequences for women’s health. In an amicus brief to the United States Supreme Court, a group of influential constitutional law professors — including Erwin Chemerinsky, Walter Dellinger, Gillian Metzger, and Laurence Tribe — write: “This case presents an issue that is of considerable importance to this Court as an institution, and to women in their everyday lives—whether courts and states remain bound by Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt…”
Individual rights and freedoms go to the heart of who we are as a country, including the right to access safe, legal abortion. In fact, support for access to safe, legal abortion is at a record high, with nearly 70 percent of Americans supporting Roe v. Wade — the highest rate since the case was decided more than 40 years ago.
Statement from Helene Krasnoff, Senior Director of Public Policy Litigation & Law at Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
This is a dangerous case of déjà vu. We hope the Supreme Court will step in and tell the Eighth Circuit that it meant what it said in Whole Woman’s Health: medically unnecessary laws that burden’s women’s access to abortion cannot stand. Arkansas cannot use one of these laws to ban medication abortion altogether, and leave women with only one health center in the state that provides abortion. In Missouri, many women are already crossing state lines to access safe, legal abortion. If these are not undue burdens, then what is? Every individual, no matter where they live, deserves the right to decide if and when to become a parent.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.