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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two Arkansas abortion facilities were threatened with suspension — one for not listing the Red Cross on its emergency number list and another for using cloth booties on an exam table — under a new law that the abortion providers are challenging in federal court, according to documents released Wednesday.
The state Department of Health issued notices of suspension to Planned Parenthood's Fayetteville facility and to Little Rock Family Planning Services last week following their annual inspections, according to documents filed by the providers in federal court. The providers are challenging a law enacted this year requiring Arkansas to suspend or revoke abortion clinics' licenses for violating any rule or law.
The Department of Health confirmed it sent the suspension notices, which it said were the first under the new law.
The Fayetteville facility was cited for using cloth booties, which the department said in its notice are incapable of being disinfected, on its ultrasound exam room table. Little Rock Family Planning was cited for not listing the Red Cross on its emergency phone number list.
The facilities have 30 days to confirm they've corrected the problems or request a hearing, the department said in its notices. Little Rock Family Planning said it's added the Red Cross to its emergency contact list, and Planned Parenthood said it'll remove the cloth booties from the examination stirrups.
"Even if plaintiffs are able to avoid a licensure suspension actually going into effect (and thereby disrupting services), issuance of the notices of suspension itself threatens to harm plaintiffs' reputations and constitutes a different penalty imposed on abortion facilities, and abortion facilities alone," attorneys for Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Little Rock Family Planning, said in the filing.
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. Planned Parenthood's Little Rock facility did not have any problems cited after its inexpection.
A judge has been weighing since August whether to strike down the new law. The providers said the suspension threats underscore their argument that the law allows the state to shut them down for even minor infractions.
"Abortion providers now face unduly harsh licensing penalties for any minor deficiency," Aaron Samulcek, Planned Parenthood Great Plains' interim president and CEO, said in a statement. "This medically unnecessary level of scrutiny, faced by no other type of health care provider, directly jeopardizes our patients' ability to continue accessing sexual and reproductive health care."
The state has argued that abortion clinics are unique, and the state has an interest in protecting the health of patients at the facilities. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she was reviewing the latest filing in the case and would respond in court.
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