by Jim Nintzel
A federal appeals court has blocked an Arizona law that put new restrictions on the use of medication to induce an abortion.
The Weekly examined the the legal battle at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in an April story:
At issue in the case are new regulations of drugs that induce abortion. In 2012, Republican state lawmakers passed a law requiring that the use of abortion medication follow an FDA protocol that was established when the use of Mifeprex was first approved by the FDA in 2000.
But that protocol required a higher dosage of the medication than is commonly used today and restricted its use to seven weeks into a pregnancy. In the 14 years since the drug has been in use in the United States, physicians have developed what's called "evidence-based protocols," which have shown that the medication is safe to use through the first nine weeks of pregnancy at a lower dosage.
Reverting to the original FDA protocols would restrict the use of the drug during those additional two weeks and require that patients make an additional visit to the doctor—a requirement that can be particularly onerous for women in rural Arizona who must travel to a metropolitan area to have an abortion.
Approximately half the women in Arizona who seek abortions use the medication option rather than a surgical procedure. And until another state law required the same facilities for dispensing the medication as performing a surgical abortion, Planned Parenthood could offer medication abortions in Yuma and Prescott. (Because of those restrictions, abortion services are now only available in Tucson, Maricopa County and Flagstaff.)
Planned Parenthood issued a press release on today's court decision:
Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled to protect Arizona women’s access to medication abortion, an extremely safe method of early abortion, by reversing a district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit instructed the district court to block a state regulation and law that would eliminate or dramatically reduce access to medication abortion. Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc. and Tucson Women’s Clinic are represented in the case Planned Parenthood Arizona et al. v. Humble by attorneys from Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Arizona counsel of Lawrence Rosenfeld of Squire Sanders LLP.
“This decision is a victory for women’s health. It assures that Arizona women can access safe, legal abortion following the best, safest medical guidelines while our case challenging this dangerous and misguided law continues,” said Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
In deciding the law should be preliminarily enjoined today, a summary of the court’s decision stated that, “Plaintiffs have introduced uncontroverted evidence that the Arizona law substantially burdens women’s access to abortion services, and Arizona has introduced no evidence that the law advances in any way its interest in women’s health.” The court found the law is likely to impose an undue burden on women because it would deny some women the ability to have an abortion, force others to have a surgical procedure instead of a medication abortion, and force women in some parts of the state to travel anywhere between 300 miles to 700 miles four times to access a safe and legal medication abortion.
“Planned Parenthood works every day to make sure women receive high-quality health care based on new research in the field, new recommendations from medical associations, new technologies, and feedback from patients, experts, and regulators in order to continue improving practices,” Richards continued. “Laws like the one passed in Arizona have no basis in medicine.”
“As a leading health care provider to women in Arizona, we want to protect women’s health and safety, but these restrictions go against more than 13 years of medical research,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “It’s 2014 — it’s well past time medical decisions be left between a woman and her physician.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) had urged the appellate court to block this dangerous Arizona law, telling the court: “The Arizona law impedes physician discretion and contravenes medical ethics by outlawing the safest, most effective method of medical abortion and relegating women to an outdated, inferior treatment. […] There is no question that the Arizona law confers significant risk and no benefit to women’s health. Put simply, the law is bad medicine.”
For the last several years, Arizona has enacted numerous restrictions that interfere with a woman’s ability to make her own health care decisions, several of which have been blocked by court order, including:
• a ban on abortion at 20 weeks, which the Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review in January;
• an effort to exclude Planned Parenthood health centers from providing cancer screenings, birth control, and other care to their patients through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), which the Court of Appeals ruled unlawful and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review in February; and
• a dangerous law that prevents highly trained nurses from providing medication abortion, which has resulted in a drastic reduction of access to early abortion statewide.
Notably, state courts have enjoined similar laws on medication abortion in Oklahoma and North Dakota. The Oklahoma Supreme Court explained in striking down that state’s law that it “is so completely at odds with the standard that governs the practice of medicine that it can serve no purpose other than to prevent women from obtaining abortions and to punish and discriminate against those who do.”