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IN THE COURTS | Federal Appeals Court Asks Ohio Supreme Court To Clarify State Law Limiting Use of Mifepristone

IN THE COURTS | Federal Appeals Court Asks Ohio Supreme Court To Clarify State Law Limiting Use of Mifepristone
[June 25, 2008]

A panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati on Monday asked the Ohio Supreme Court to clarify whether a state law restricting the use of the abortion drug mifepristone, also known as RU-486, "explicitly limits" use to the first seven weeks of pregnancy before ruling on whether the law is constitutional, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. The appeals court, which heard arguments in the case in April, also asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether the law requires physicians to follow the drug label's dosage and treatment recommendations. According to the Enquirer, both questions are related to FDA's approval letter for mifepristone, which is referred to in the state law.

A "strict reading" of FDA's approval letter "could make it illegal for doctors to prescribe the drug after the first seven weeks of pregnancy," the Enquirer reports. The Ohio law was supposed to go into effect in 2004, but a challenge from Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates prevented it from being enforced, according to the Enquirer (Horn, Cincinnati Enquirer, 6/23). A lower federal court previously ruled that the law is unclear and does not contain an exception allowing use of mifepristone after seven weeks' gestation if a woman's health is at risk (AP/Akron Beacon Journal, 6/23).

Planned Parenthood says that the law is so vague that physicians could face criminal charges for acts they did not know were illegal. Planned Parenthood argues that the section of the law limiting use of mifepristone to the first seven weeks of pregnancy could put women's health at risk because the Planned Parenthood lawyers handling the case have argued that mifepristone might be a safer option than a surgical abortion for some women who are past their seventh week of pregnancy. Lawyers from the state attorney general's office have said the law is easy to understand and constitutional.

Mimi Liu, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said that the appeals court could have interpreted the law without clarification from the Supreme Court but added that the request is not a setback. "It's kind of a procedural detour," Liu said, adding the decision "doesn't decide anything on the merits" of the law. A spokesperson for the Ohio Attorney General's office was unavailable for comment, the Enquirer reports (Cincinnati Enquirer, 6/23).