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Judge hears arguments in abortion clinics lawsuit

LITTLE ROCK -- An attorney for three Arkansas abortion clinics told a federal judge Thursday that a new state law requiring the suspension or revocation of their licenses for any violation unconstitutionally singles them out, dismissing the state's assertion that the new requirement furthers its interest in protecting women's health.

U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. said after a roughly two-hour hearing he hoped to issue an order soon on whether to strike down the law, which was enacted in March and took effect last week. Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Little Rock Family Planning Services are challenging its legality.

An attorney for Planned Parenthood told Moody that the measure imposes the threat that the facilities would be shut down for even minor violations. The state already has the discretion to revoke or suspend the clinics' licenses on a case-by-case basis, she noted.

"No other licensed health care facilities in Arkansas face these mandatory and draconian penalties," Jennifer Keighley said during the hearing.

Deputy Attorney General Monty Baugh said the clinics aren't in a position to challenge the new law since it hasn't been enforced yet. He also said the state can treat abortion providers differently because they are governed by different regulations than other health care facilities. When pressed by Moody on why the clinics should be treated differently than other health facilities, Baugh compared the clinics' argument to trying to use the same regulations for towing companies and car dealerships.

"They both deal with cars, but their business is not the same. ... Their regulations are not the same and the enforcement is not the same," Baugh said.

Under the new law, the facilities' suspension or revocation would become effective within 30 days unless the clinic requests a hearing to challenge it.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains operates centers in Little Rock and Fayetteville that administer the abortion pill. Little Rock Family Planning Services offers the abortion pill and surgical abortions. The American Civil Liberties Union is representing Little Rock Family Planning in the lawsuit.

A federal judge last month in a separate case blocked Arkansas from enforcing four other abortion restrictions approved this year, including a ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure. The attorney general's office has said it plans to appeal that order.

State Desk on 08/11/2017

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