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Ariz. Judge Rules Law Restricting Medication Abortion Violates State Constitution

Ariz. Judge Rules Law Restricting Medication Abortion Violates State Constitution

October 16, 2015 — An Arizona judge on Thursday blocked a state law restricting medication abortion, ruling that the law violates the state constitution, AP/Arizona Capitol Times reports (AP/Arizona Capitol Times, 10/15).

Background

The law (HB 2036), enacted in 2012, would have barred physicians from administering medication abortion drugs beyond seven weeks of pregnancy, among several other abortion-related provisions. Physicians also would have been required to administer both drugs in the medication abortion regimen on site, necessitating an extra office visit, and at the dosage provided on the FDA label, which is higher than the dosage typically used in practice.

Planned Parenthood Arizona and other groups filed suit over the rules, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June 2014 issued a temporary injunction until a hearing could be held. The injunction reversed a federal judge's decision to allow the rules to take effect in April 2014. In September 2014, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne (R) filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit ruling.

Meanwhile, the Center for Reproductive Rights in April 2014 also filed suit against the medication abortion rules in Maricopa County Superior Court. CRR argued that the state Legislature does not have the authority to let FDA and drugmakers set state standards. In addition, the group argued that the state Health Services Department violated its public comment rules when the rules were published.

In August, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Richard Gama heard arguments in the case challenging the law.

The federal case was on hold until the state lawsuit was decided (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/18).

Details of Ruling

In his ruling Thursday, Gama said the law violated the state constitution because it would force the state to rely on FDA's protocols and would have to change whenever the agency updated drug labels (AP/Arizona Capitol Times, 10/15). According to Gama, that requirement violates the state constitution, which bars state lawmakers from assigning their authority to other entities (Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 10/15).

David Brown, staff attorney at CRR, praised the decision, noting, "The impact on women is important because the outcome is to allow doctors to rely on evidence, on science and their medical judgment" (AP/Arizona Capitol Times, 10/15). He added, "Unfortunately the Arizona Legislature has a pattern of ignoring the constitution when passing anti-abortion laws ... So we're always pleased to remind them that they have to respect the constitution and respect women's constitutional rights" (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Daily Star, 10/15).

According to Brown, the federal lawsuit will not go forward if the state does not appeal Gama's ruling (AP/Arizona Capitol Times, 10/15).

Separately, Dan Pochoda, senior counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said the decision could also support a challenge to another Arizona law (SB 1318) that requires doctors to provide medically unproven information to women about medication abortion. "It gives us momentum," he said. According to the Arizona Republic, the lawsuit over SB 1318 is scheduled to go to court next week, although the plaintiffs have asked for a delay (Rau, Arizona Republic, 10/15).

Meanwhile, Mia Garcia, spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said the office was assessing the decision on HB 2036 "to determine our next steps" (AP/Arizona Capitol Times, 10/15).