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Arizona State Health Director Requests Dismissal of Challenge to Medication Abortion Measure

Arizona State Health Director Requests Dismissal of Challenge to Medication Abortion Measure

July 9, 2015 — Arizona's health director is requesting that a federal judge dismiss a challenge to a law (SB 1318) that would require abortion providers to tell women medically unproven information about medication abortion because no physicians have yet been penalized for violating it, the Capitol Media Services/San Tan Valley Sentinel reports (Fischer, Capitol Media Services/San Tan Valley Sentinel, 7/7).

The law was supposed to take effect on July 3. However, the medication abortion provision has been delayed pending a hearing in federal court, likely in October or September. The delay does not apply to the law's other provisions.

Law Details

The law's medication abortion provision would require physicians to tell women the medically unproven statement that administering high doses of progesterone could reverse a medication abortion. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no medically accepted evidence that medication abortion can be reversed.

In addition, the law bars women in the state from purchasing health plans that include abortion coverage on the Affordable Care Act's (PL 111-148) insurance marketplace. The restrictions do not apply to pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, or when a pregnancy threatens a woman's life.

The law also requires physicians to provide documentation to the state Department of Health Services showing that they have hospital admitting privileges. The records will not be made available to the public.

Lawsuit Details

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona and several other Arizona providers, requesting that the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona block the medication abortion provision from taking effect.

According to the lawsuit, the measure violates physicians' rights under the First Amendment by requiring them, "unwillingly and against their best medical judgment," to convey "a state-mandated message that is neither medically nor scientifically supported." In addition, the suit argues that the law violates patients' rights under the 14th Amendment because it requires them to receive "false, misleading and/or irrelevant information" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/17).

The lawsuit notes that while some doctors have "experimented" with administering high doses of progesterone, such practice "does not constitute credible, medically accepted evidence that the experimental practice is effective or safe."

Dismissal Request Details

Douglas Drury, an attorney representing state Health Director Cara Christ, in legal filings wrote the lawsuit should be dismissed because it is not "'ripe' for consideration."

He wrote, "Plaintiffs and their patients have not suffered any injury in fact." According to the CMS/Sentinel, defendants say the challenge should go forward only if a physician refuses to tell a patient that medication abortion is reversible. The filings also reject the plaintiffs' argument that there is "no credible evidence that a medication abortion can be reversed," the CMS/Sentinel reports.

Meanwhile, Andrew Beck, an ACLU attorney, said physicians do not have to risk being penalized under the law for the legal challenge to go forward. "The law is clear that you don't have to engage in an act of civil disobedience in order to have either standing or a ripe case," he said, adding, "That sort of impermissible choice, the fact that you're being compelled to act in an unconstitutional way, is enough to allow you to challenge the statute" (Capitol Media Services/San Tan Valley Sentinel, 7/7).