An Arizona law limiting women’s access to drug-induced abortions was allowed by a federal judge to take effect in a defeat to reproductive-rights activists fighting parts of a 2012 state overhaul of abortion regulations they have called the most extreme in the nation.
U.S. District Judge David Bury in Tucson yesterday denied a request by Planned Parenthood to halt implementation of the law, which prohibits medicinal abortions, including the use of RU-486, in the eighth and ninth week of pregnancy, until its constitutionality has been resolved.
The measure, taking effect today, is one of more than 200 abortion restrictions passed nationwide since a Republican-led state-legislative push began in 2011. More state abortion restrictions were passed during that time than in the previous decade, according to a Jan. 2 report by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights advocacy organization.
“Given the ready availability of a safe alternative method of abortion,” it will be difficult for Planned Parenthood to show that Arizona’s law “is a substantial obstacle to a woman’s right to obtain a first trimester abortion in Arizona,” Bury said. Portions of the legislation have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Laws over access to, and use of, drugs to induce abortions have been challenged in Indiana, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year approved access to such medications for all women of “child-bearing potential.”
“This law serves no purpose other than to prevent Arizona women from using a safe alternative to surgical abortion and force their doctors to follow an outdated, riskier and less effective method,” David Brown, a lawyer with the Center for Productive Rights, said in a statement. “This is what happens when politicians, not doctors, practice medicine.”
Arizona’s abortion opponents, supported by 16 other states and the governor of Oklahoma, lost a bid before the Supreme Court in January to revive a part of the 2012 state law that would have generally banned the procedure once a woman’s pregnancy reached the 20th week.
Arizona’s appeal sought to topple a pillar of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision: its guarantee of access to abortion for women until the fetus is viable. Arizona argued that viability, generally understood to occur at 24 weeks of pregnancy, isn’t an absolute line and that lawmakers should be able to step in earlier to protect a pregnant woman and the developing baby.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco last year upheld a ruling by a federal judge in Phoenix who struck down Arizona’s ban on Medicaid funds for health-care providers who perform abortions because it violates federal rules giving patients the right to choose their own doctor.
In his order, the Arizona judge in the current case explained the statute in terms of a “medication abortion” that includes RU-486, known as Mifepristone or Mifeprex, and Misoprostol, known as Cytotec.
“The statute and corresponding regulation involves a medication abortion protocol” using a combination of the two. “The first drug kills the embryo/fetus and the second causes the uterus to contract and expel the embryo/fetus, completing the abortion,” according to the order.
The case is Planned Parenthood Arizona Inc. v. Humble, 14-cv-01910, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Tucson).