Court Weighs Ariz. Medication Abortion Restrictions

March 27, 2014 — A federal judge on Wednesday heard arguments over Arizona's restrictions on medication abortion, which would be among the harshest in the nation if allowed to take effect, the New York Times reports (Santos, New York Times, 3/26).

The medication abortion rules -- which are among several abortion-related regulations mandated under a 2012 state law (HB 2036) -- bar physicians from administering abortion-inducing drugs beyond seven weeks of pregnancy. Physicians also would be required to administer both drugs in the medication abortion regimen on site and at the FDA-approved dosage, which is higher than the dosage typically used in practice.

The rule and other regulations are scheduled to take effect on April 1 (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/29).

According to Planned Parenthood Arizona, four states have similarly attempted to restrict the use of medication abortion. Federal courts have upheld such measures in Texas and Ohio, while state courts have rejected similar laws in North Dakota and Oklahoma.

PPAZ sued Arizona over the proposed rules, asking the court to issue an injunction before the law takes effect. On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge David Bury heard arguments from PPAZ and the state over the law's constitutionality, but he did not immediately issue a ruling on the injunction request.

Plaintiffs' Arguments

Alice Clapman, an attorney with Planned Parenthood, said that the law is "unconstitutionally vague" and could potentially "keep some women from obtaining an abortion all together" (Ingram, Reuters, 3/26). She said some women would be "forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term because they'd have to travel hundreds of miles" to obtain a medication abortion, while women who fear surgery "would carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if they couldn't get a medication abortion."

Clapman added that the rules could force women to undergo unnecessary surgical abortions and keep some women -- particularly in Northern Arizona, where the sole abortion clinic offers only medication abortion -- from accessing abortion at all (New York Times, 3/26).

The plaintiffs have also argued that the protocols used in much of the country for administering medication abortion are less costly and less burdensome than the proposed rules, and that they have been used safely and effectively for at least 700,000 women (Reuters, 3/26).

State's Arguments

Arizona Assistant Attorney General Michael Tryon argued that the law "doesn't ban abortions at all; it regulates medical abortions" (New York Times, 3/26).

He added that allowing the law to go into effect would not harm the plaintiffs, saying, "At most, these [rules] are inconveniences ... We all go through inconveniences, but this law doesn't burden women" (Reuters, 3/26).