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Federal Appeals Court Questions Ariz. Medication Abortion Law

Federal Appeals Court Questions Ariz. Medication Abortion Law

May 15, 2014 — A federal appeals court on Tuesday considered whether to continue blocking an Arizona medication abortion measure from taking effect, the Capitol Media Services/Arizona Capitol Times reports (Fischer, Capitol Media Services/Arizona Capitol Times, 5/13).

The medication abortion rules -- which are among several abortion-related regulations mandated under a 2012 state law (HB 2036) -- would 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.

Planned Parenthood Arizona and other groups filed suit over the rules, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in April issued a temporary injunction until a hearing can be held. The injunction reversed a federal judge's decision to allow the rules to take effect on April 1 (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/9).

Key Arguments

The court on Tuesday heard arguments from both sides over whether the injunction should be extended. According to Capitol Media Services/Times, the larger issue in the underlying case is whether the state has a legal basis to impose the restrictions.

Arizona Solicitor General Robert Ellman argued that state lawmakers are entitled to require that medication abortion drugs be used according to FDA protocol, which would bar the method after seven weeks of pregnancy. By contrast, the "evidence-based" protocol used in practice permits the method until nine weeks of pregnancy, according to Capitol Media Services/Times.

Judge William Fletcher contested the state's argument. "The evidence now in the record seems to me to show that the 'evidence based' protocol is both safer, less expensive, [and] more convenient than the on-label protocol," which suggests that the state's restrictions would place an "undue burden" on women, he said.

Ellman contended that the Supreme Court has only guaranteed women the right to abortion, "not the right to choose the method by which [they] do so."

However, Alice Clapman, representing Planned Parenthood Federation of America, argued that evidence in the record shows that some women are so afraid of the surgical procedure that they continue their pregnancies when unable to access medication abortion (Capitol Media Services/Arizona Capitol Times, 5/13).