Here's the latest twist on abortion legislation at the Arizona statehouse: The FDA today updated its protocols for the use of Mifepristone
, the so-called abortion pill.
And right now, Gov. Doug Ducey has a bill on his desk that would force doctors to prescribe the pill under an older protocol that requires women to take a higher dose than necessary and bans its use past seven weeks of pregnancy.
On Monday, Republicans in the Arizona Legislature passed HB 1324, which requires doctors to use an FDA protocol that dates back to 2000, when the drug was first approved.
Locking in the outdated FDA protocols has been an ongoing campaign by anti-abortion lawmakers as well as the Arizona Center for Policy, the Christian conservative lobbying group that has frequently pushed legislation to restrict abortion and gay rights. As the Weekly explained in the past when a similar bill passed but was blocked by the courts:
[The older FDA 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.
So today’s news is a big deal for supporters of abortion rights.
Dr. Julie Kwatra, legislative chair of the Arizona chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, unpacked what today’s decision meant for the Arizona legislation.
“The impacts of tying the administration of medication abortion to an outdated FDA protocol rather than today’s evidence-based standards include requiring women to return to their doctor for the second medication involved in medication abortion rather than taking the second medication at home, and tripling the dose of the 1st medication (Mifeprex) from 200 mg to 600 mg,” Kwatra said in a Planned Parenthood press statement. “That’s not the modern standard of care, and simply put, is bad medicine.”
Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard called on Ducey to veto the bill.
“Politicians supporting SB 1324 want Arizonans to believe that this bill is about protecting women,” said Howard. “However, medical professionals know that locking in place a medical standard which is now 16 years old is disastrous for Arizona women. We are pleased that the FDA has acted to support evidence-based medicine, and urge the governor to take heed from their action.”
So now Ducey has a tricky political question before him: Does he veto a bill that abortion opponents really like? Or does he sign it, legislating a medical protocol that is outdated and potentially harmful to women?
And if he does sign it, how does the state defend against the inevitable lawsuit? The state has already lost in federal court in a fight over similar legislation—and that was before the protocol was updated. It's hard to believe a judge is likely to look kindly on an argument that Arizona is looking out for the health of the mother by forcing doctors to obey outdated protocols.