“These restrictions will hurt women by shutting down access to safe medical care,” says Planned Parenthood

Today, Planned Parenthood filed a new lawsuit to protect Arkansas women’s access to safe, legal abortion. Planned Parenthood asked a federal court to block a law that would end access to two out of the three abortion-providing health centers in the state if it goes into effect as scheduled on January 1, 2016. The law would impose severe and medically unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion, a very safe method of abortion early in pregnancy. Because Planned Parenthood of the Heartland only provides medication abortion in Arkansas and would not be able to do so under the burdensome requirements of this law, the law severely limits abortion access for women in Arkansas, forcing women to travel to the sole remaining abortion provider in the state or travel out of state to find care – if they can access it at all.

 

Women in the United States have been safely and effectively using medication abortion for over a decade. In fact, nearly one in four women seeking an abortion will have a medication abortion if it is an available option for her. Data shows that medication abortion is one of the safest medical procedures today. In the exceedingly rare case of an emergency, providers have protocols in place to protect patient safety. Medication abortion gives a woman the option of a more private and what may feel like a less invasive method of ending a pregnancy, in a setting in which she feels most comfortable.

 

“As a physician who has practiced medicine in this community for many years, I’ve devoted my life to protecting the health and well-being of my patients. The bottom line is that abortion is very safe, and these restrictions will hurt women by shutting down access to safe medical care,” said Dr. Stephanie Ho, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s provider in Arkansas.

 

“Planned Parenthood is committed to protecting access to safe, legal abortion for every woman to consider if and when she needs it,” said Suzanna de Baca, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “We will continue to fight for the right of every woman to make her own medical decisions. No matter what.”

 

"It's clear this law is part of a broader agenda to end access to safe, legal abortion entirely and that's what it would do for women outside of Little Rock. At Planned Parenthood, we will not back down and we will not shut our doors which is why we are taking the state of Arkansas to court," said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

 

The law would force medication abortion providers to follow the inferior, outdated and less effective protocol described on the FDA’s final printed labeling (“FPL”) for one of the pills used in medication abortion. This protocol reflects research from almost 20 years ago. The way drugs are administered often evolves after the FDA approves a drug for use. The medical community often prescribes medicines for different uses and in different doses based on new research and their experience. The evidence-based regimen for medication abortion – the regimen used by the vast majority of medication abortion providers today, including Planned Parenthood physicians in Arkansas – is more effective and safer for patients than the FPL regimen. In new guidelines on medication abortion issued in March 2014, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and Society of Family Planning write point-blank that: "evidence-based protocols for medical abortion are superior to the FDA-approved regimen."

 

The American Medical Association (AMA) and ACOG urged a court to block a similar law in Arizona, writing: “The Arizona law impedes physician discretion and contravenes medical ethics by outlawing the safest, most effective method of medical abortion and relegating women to an outdated, inferior treatment.  […] There is no question that the Arizona law confers significant risk and no benefit to women’s health. Put simply, the law is bad medicine.”

 

The Arkansas law also requires physicians that provide medication abortions to maintain a contract with another physician who has specific privileges at a hospital. Planned Parenthood’s suit asserts that this provision is difficult to meet for many reasons, including that it limits eligible backup providers to a very narrow scope of medical practitioners. Because Planned Parenthood cannot meet this requirement, despite months of attempting to find a physician with the required privileges willing to enter into a contract with it, this provision, if it goes into effect, will prevent Planned Parenthood’ health centers from providing medication abortion.

 

Medical experts, including the AMA and ACOG, oppose laws requiring abortion providers to have privileges at a hospital, writing that: “Abortion is a very safe procedure, and complications requiring hospital admission are extremely rare.

 

“Emergency room physicians, hospital-based physicians, and on-call specialists already provide prompt and effective treatment to all patients with urgent medical needs, including women with abortion-related complications.”

 

 

Background:

 

Planned Parenthood health centers have rigorous standards and training for staff as well as emergency plans in place because women’s safety is our first priority. At the federal and state levels, there are multiple agencies that oversee and regulate Planned Parenthood and other health care providers. Planned Parenthood health centers go through an accreditation process with rigorous standards, regular review and inspections, and ongoing training. And we don’t stop there: We constantly evaluate new research in the field, new recommendations from medical associations, new technologies, and feedback from patients, experts and regulators to continue improving our practices.

 

For patients’ safety, providers already have plans in place in case of an emergency. Hospitalization due to an abortion is rare. In the extremely unlikely event that a patient experiences a serious complication from an abortion and requires hospital-based care, the high-quality, experienced physicians and nurses who work at Planned Parenthood and other health centers providing abortion have detailed systems in place to ensure that a patient gets care quickly from a nearby hospital.

 

The law would deprive many women entirely of the option of medication abortion — a safe, private and non-invasive method of ending a pregnancy. Because Planned Parenthood of the Heartland only provides medication abortion and would not be able to do so under the burdensome requirements of this law, in effect, the law severely limits abortion access for women in Arkansas, forcing women to travel long distances to find safe, legal, essential abortion care – if a woman can access it at all.

Having a contract with a provider with admitting privileges does not increase patient safety. This requirement is difficult to meet for many reasons, including that this law limits eligible backup providers to a very narrow scope of medical practitioners. Arkansas law also deters providers from creating formal contracts with abortion providers by consistently creating laws that punish those who support a woman’s right to access safe, legal abortion – e.g. the law that recently went into effect barring organizations and providers who refer to Planned Parenthood from receiving state and federal pass-through funding.

 

Abortions, including medication abortions, are very safe medical procedures. In those rare cases when complications do occur from a medication abortion, they are similar to those that may occur from a miscarriage, which emergency room and other physicians are qualified and experienced to treat.

 

American women have been safely and legally using medication abortion for more than 15 years. In fact, one in four women decides on this method if it is an option. And medical studies have shown that medication abortion is an extremely safe procedure.

 

When you think about it, these restrictions are written by politicians, not medical experts. The AMA and ACOG oppose laws like this because they pose a risk to women’s health by reducing timely access to safe and legal abortion, especially in places where providers are already limited.

 

We all want to protect patient safety — this law doesn’t do that. The AMA and ACOG oppose laws like this because such laws pose a risk to women’s health by reducing timely access to safe and legal abortion. This law creates delays in access to care, especially in places where providers of safe and legal abortion are already limited. The provision requiring medication abortion to be provided under the outdated regimen that appears on the drug’s label forces physicians to practice outdated medicine that in fact increases risks to patients.  

 

Planned Parenthood has two health centers in Arkansas, located in Little Rock and Fayetteville. In a single year, Planned Parenthood health centers in Arkansas provide approximately 4,400 patients high-quality reproductive health services including well-woman exams, lifesaving cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, HIV testing and risk reduction counseling, a full range of FDA-approved birth control methods, pregnancy testing and options counseling, and other preventive health services. 

 

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Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (PPHeartland) has served women and men of all ages since the 1930s. Today the organization offers a full range of quality reproductive health care services to residents in Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and eastern Oklahoma through 18 health centers and Education Resource Centers in Des Moines, Lincoln and Omaha.

 

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 approximately 700 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.