Depending on the outcome of a court decision this week, Arkansas could become the seventh state in the country to have only one abortion clinic. Women in the state could also lose access to any abortions after 10 weeks into their pregnancy.
On Monday, Judge Kristine Baker, appointed by President Obama in 2012, heard challenges to three of Arkansas' recently-passed anti-abortion bills. If the laws are allowed to be implemented, it would force the closure of the state's last surgical abortion clinic, Little Rock Family Planning Services. Planned Parenthood Little Rock would be the state's last remaining abortion clinic, but would only be authorized to provide medical abortions, a method used up until 10 weeks into a woman's pregnancy.
If Judge Baker doesn't block the legislation from going into effect, the new laws will begin on Wednesday.
Arkansas' anti-abortion laws in question are among the more than 300 pieces of legislation introduced this year that regulate and restrict access to abortion, the most in any single legislative session since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization. In six states, lawmakers have successfully passed "heartbeat" bans, laws that prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which typically happens five or six weeks into a woman's pregnancy. Critics of the new laws say that's before most women know they're pregnant.
Alabama's lawmakers went a step further, passing a total ban on abortions in the state.
The new state laws have not taken effect, and all but Missouri's face court challenges.
This legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers passed 12 anti-abortion bills, three of which are being challenged in this week's lawsuit. The state's "Cherish Act" bans the procedure after 18 weeks into a woman's pregnancy and its "Down Syndrome Discrimination by Abortion Prohibition Act" makes it a felony offense for physicians to perform an abortion if they believe the woman is seeking the procedure because fetal Down Syndrome was detected.
However, Senate Bill 448 could have the most impact on abortion access. The law, which was never given a name, requires that "a person shall not perform or induce an abortion unless that person is a physician licensed to practice medicine in the state of Arkansas and is board certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology," according to the bill's language.
As of Monday, Arkansas only had two functioning abortion clinics, both in Little Rock: Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Services. If SB448 is allowed to be implemented, Family Planning Services, the only clinic the provides surgical abortions in the state, would be forced to close because the clinic's one provider "isn't OB/GYN board-eligible or certified," said Elizabeth Nash, a senior states issue manager at Guttmacher. While Planned Parenthood has physicians who would meet the requirements of the new law, the clinic only provides medical abortions and can't accommodate additional patients, according to Nash.
Emails to Planned Parenthood and Family Planning Services were not immediately returned.
If Judge Baker does not block the laws from implementation, Arkansas will become the seventh state with only one abortion clinic, joining Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the state had eight abortion facilities in 1992. The number dropped to four by 2014.
Earlier this month, Arkansas went down to two providers when Planned Parenthood Fayetteville announced that it would be closing its doors due to "increasing problems with our landlord," Planned Parenthood Great Plains Chief Executive Officer Brandon Hill said in a statement. In a court filing, Hill wrote that Planned Parenthood had contacted dozens of properties, but had been unable to find a willing landlord.
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