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Federal Appeals Court Blocks Ariz. Medication Abortion Law

Federal Appeals Court Blocks Ariz. Medication Abortion Law

June 4, 2014 — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday said that Arizona's medication abortion restrictions appear unconstitutional and should be blocked while a lawsuit over them continues, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports (Elias/Christie, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3).

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 Circuit in April 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 on April 1 (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/15).

Tuesday's Ruling

Judge William Fletcher, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said that FDA "encourages" the off-label use of the medication abortion drug mifepristone and that the Arizona measure appears to impose an unconstitutional "undue burden on a woman's right to abortion."

He added, "Arizona has presented no evidence whatsoever that the law furthers any interest in women's health."

The ruling means that the rules will remain on hold while the merits of the case are debated in a lower court, according to the AP/Chronicle (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3).

Supreme Court Prospects

Disparate rulings over the constitutionality of medication abortion restrictions in Arizona and other states increase the likelihood that the Supreme Court could eventually consider the issue, Politico Pro reports.

Tuesday's decision by the 9th Circuit conflicts with rulings from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld similar medication abortion restrictions in Ohio and Texas, respectively (Winfield Cunningham, Politico Pro, 6/3).

Comments on Ruling

Stephanie Grisham, spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, said the ruling on the Arizona case is "disappointing" and "openly conflicts" with other court rulings on similar cases.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said in a statement that the ruling is "a victory for women's health," adding, "Laws like the one passed in Arizona have no basis in medicine" (Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 6/3).

Nancy Northup -- president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which argued the case on behalf of Planned Parenthood -- said in a statement, "This law was never more than another backdoor attempt to restrict women's constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to end a pregnancy, and to cut off access to health care options recommended by the doctors women trust and rely on" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 6/3).