Arkansas AG Threatens New York Abortion Clinic Over Service It Doesn’t Offer

"It's not unusual for anti-choice legislators to make things up for their political purposes," the clinic's founder told Jezebel.

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Arkansas AG Threatens New York Abortion Clinic Over Service It Doesn’t Offer

Since June 2022, Arkansas has had a near-total abortion ban, with an exception only if the pregnant person’s life is in danger. People who need abortions can still leave the state for care or get abortion pills via activist groups. But if Arkansans weren’t aware of this, the state’s Attorney General Tim Griffin (R) may have just inadvertently informed them by threatening two abortion providers—including a New York clinic that doesn’t even provide the service he claims.

On Tuesday, Griffin sent cease and desist letters to Netherlands-based Aid Access and Choices Women’s Medical Center in Queens, New York, telling them if they don’t halt advertising they could face investigations and lawsuits. “Abortions are prohibited in Arkansas except under very limited circumstances. As such, abortion pills may not be legally shipped to Arkansans or brought into the State for use by Arkansans,” Griffin said in a release, citing the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA). “My office has verified that both Choices Women’s Medical Center, Inc., and Aid Access are advertising the availability of abortion-inducing pills to Arkansans in contravention of our laws.”

But Choices Women’s Medical Center told Jezebel it doesn’t even mail abortion pills to people in New York, let alone to patients in states with abortion bans. Choices founder and CEO Merle Hoffman said the clinic does procedural and medication abortions, but only on-site at the Queens clinic. “We don’t have a telemedicine program,” she said. “But it’s not unusual for anti-choice legislators to make things up for their political purposes.”

Meanwhile, Aid Access is open about prescribing and mailing abortion pills to people in states with bans—something they’ve been doing since 2018 as a humanitarian service. The non-profit recently demonstrated how this process works with robots zipping around outside the Supreme Court during arguments in a case about abortion pills.

Before the Dobbs decision, its Dutch founder Rebecca Gomperts wrote prescriptions and had pills shipped from a pharmacy in India, which took weeks. Now that several blue states (including California and Massachusetts) have passed so-called “shield laws” to protect abortion providers from prosecution, Aid Access has U.S. abortion providers based in those states write and ship prescriptions that arrive in days.

Shield laws are untested legally since they’re relatively new and no one has tried yet to sue an out-of-state prescriber. But Arkansas is signaling that it may want to test them. The letter Griffin sent to Aid Access says the AG’s office believes “Aid Access is (1) advertising that abortion-inducing medical pills may legally be obtained in Arkansas, and (2) selling such pills to women in Arkansas.” The letter sent to Choices Women’s Medical Center, on the other hand, uses different wording, saying the clinic “is (1) representing that abortion-inducing medical pills may legally be obtained or brought to Arkansas, and (2) providing such pills to women within Arkansas or to bring to Arkansas.” Both letters say the AG’s office reviewed their website and verified the allegations.

Choices does explain on its site that people from other states can travel to New York and may get financial assistance for the trip and the procedure; Hoffman called these pages “educational.” The site also has search-engine-optimized pages to inform people in Arkansas and other states about the travel option. For example, this page says people would take the first drug (mifepristone) in the clinic, and at the bottom of the page it clearly says the clinic is in New York. Then, it says patients take the second drug (misoprostol) 24 to 48 hours later. Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot from Choices’ web site. Photo: Choicesmedical.com

So it appears the Arkansas AG sent the cease and desist letter to Choices based on web pages meant to help people find their clinic on Google. When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Arkansas AG’s office said, “Our letter to Choices Women’s Medical Center speaks for itself. We look forward to receiving a response.” Jezebel followed up to ask if the office was worried about First Amendment counterclaims for publishing abortion information. The spokesperson said “When the issues are properly understood, there are no First Amendment concerns here.”

As for Aid Access, Gomperts told Jezebel that she hadn’t received the letter yet, but Griffin had essentially Streisand Effect-ed her service that helps people have abortions without traveling out of state. “This action of the Attorney General will just inform more women with unwanted pregnancies living in Arkansas that Aid Access will help and that they can get FDA-approved abortion pills from USA providers at home,” if they are less than 13 weeks pregnant, she said. “We will not stop doing that.”

Update 5/24/24, 11:30am: This story was updated with additional comment from the Arkansas AG’s office.

People who need assistance self-managing a miscarriage or abortion can call the Miscarriage + Abortion Hotline at (833) 246-2632 for confidential medical support, or the Repro Legal Helpline at (844) 868-2812 for confidential legal information and advice.

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