DR. STEPANIE HO: Striviing to keep Planned Parenthood in business. Casey Quinlan/Think Progress

The New York Times focuses on a doctor, Dr. Stephanie Ho, who provides medication abortion in Fayetteville in a report on what the post-Anthony Kennedy U.S. Supreme Court might do to eroding availability of abortion in the U.S. The outlook is not good.

The Planned Parenthood clinics in Little Rock and Fayetteville were put out of business by a state law intended to do just that by requiring a contract with a doctor with hospital admitting privileges. A federal judge has enjoined the law for now, but the case could wind its way to the top of several cases around the country in which anti-women’s-rights legislatures have come up with obstruction short of outright bans to abortions.


Confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, not to mention his court rulings, put him squarely on the anti-choice side of the ledger. Will he step back from mentor Kennedy’s resistance to overturning Roe v. Wade? His writing shows he’s willing. He also botched a question yesterday in a way that reflected his own Catholic background — he described birth control pills as abortion-inducing drugs in reference to a case in which a Catholic organization fought the Affordable Care Act provision that insurance policies must cover contraception (not abortion).

Many think Roe will survive, but barriers will effectively produce blockades to abortion.


States like Arkansas will get their way with smaller cases that reduce — but not eliminate — the right to an abortion.

“The Arkansas case is a bellwether, not because it’s a frontal assault on Roe, but because it’s another nudge in the direction of ever more restrictions on the right that Roe recognized,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin. “It now becomes a much bigger story because we have this fundamental shift in the center of gravity.”

Arkansas is in the heart of a broad band through the country’s middle and south where abortion access in most states is already down to a few clinics. This map formed gradually, abortion rights advocates say, as red states passed laws that tested the boundaries of abortion restrictions, and federal appeals courts — in particular in the Eighth and Fifth Circuits — upheld them.

If Arkansas gets away with effectively banning medication abortions in the first weeks of pregnancy, the state will have a single remaining provider of clinical abortions and it is under constant attack by protestors, new legal restrictions and heavy regulation through minor requirements.

“The noose is tightening,” said Bettina E. Brownstein, a lawyer in Little Rock who represents abortion clinics. “The courts are not the avenue they once were. That’s the big difference.”

When the medication abortion law went into effect in Arkansas, it left only one clinic for a state of three million. That meant women from northwest Arkansas, where Dr. Ho practices, had to either go out of state or make a 380-mile round trip to Little Rock for a surgical abortion.

Now the number of clinics is back up to three. But many other barriers remain: a ban on abortions after 20 weeks; a 48-hour waiting period, which requires women to make two or three trips to the clinic; parental consent for minors; doctors unable to dispense medication abortion pills remotely by video.

“If you’re a woman in Arkansas, and you’re almost 200 miles away from a clinic, have a 48-hour waiting period, and a job that doesn’t give you sick leave or flexible hours, then your access to abortion has already been banned,” said Helene Krasnoff, head of litigation at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A regional branch of the organization, Planned Parenthood Great Plains, runs the clinic in Fayetteville, which provides medication abortion only.

The list of rules imposed on women’s bodies by the Arkansas legislature is all the more striking in the context of the Kamala Harris question that stunned Brett Kavanaugh yesterday. He was forced to admit, no, he knew of no laws that legislate men’s bodies.


Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge vows to defend all the laws legislating women’s bodies. With cases ultimately reaching the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, with 10 of 11 Republican judges, she has a good legal field to play on.

The article focuses on Dr. Stephanie Ho.

While Arkansas politics were shifting, Dr. Ho was finishing her residency program at the University of Arkansas. She had decided early in her career that she was going to provide abortion care, but it was not an easy choice.

She remembers a doctor in her residency program asking, in exasperation: “Why do you even want to do this?” She replied: “If I can and I’m willing, why would I not?”

Dr. Ho said she had to pay her own way and go out of state to Colorado to get a month of abortion training. After she finished residency, she interviewed for jobs but no one offered her one. She said one interviewer told her directly that her intention to provide abortions meant she would not be invited back.

For now, she is continuing her work, but that could change anytime. The stakes are high: A ruling against the clinics would effectively ban medication abortion in the state and leave Arkansas again with only one clinic. But a ruling against the state, Professor Vladeck believes, could mean the case ends up at the Supreme Court, potentially setting a new legal standard for lower courts that clinics might find worse.