Lawsuit Filed Challenging Arizona Regulations on Medication Abortion

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Lawsuit Filed Challenging Arizona Regulations on Medication Abortion

Jessica Mason Pieklo

Attorneys for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights have challenged a new regulation they argue threatens to make medication abortion unavailable in the state.

Women’s health-care providers in Arizona filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday challenging new state regulations on medication abortion that they argue are unconstitutional and threaten to ban all medication abortions in the state.

The lawsuit, Planned Parenthood Arizona et al. v. Humble, was jointly filed by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona, Inc. and the Tucson Women’s Clinic. According to the complaint, the regulations, which were signed into law by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in April of 2012 and are scheduled to take effect on April 1, are vague and unconstitutionally target medication abortion in such a way that would either ban the method outright or only allow doctors to offer medication abortion with an inferior, outdated, and less effective protocol. The result, the plaintiffs claim, will be to deny patients access to an alternative to surgical abortion that has been widely recognized as safe and effective by medical experts and organizations worldwide.

“For decades, Arizona was a state that protected a woman’s right to make personal decisions about her own health care,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a statement. “But for the last several years, extreme and out-of-touch politicians have waged an all-out war on Arizona women and their access to safe, legal abortion and even cancer screenings, birth control, and other basic health care.” He added, “In addition to forcing doctors in Arizona to practice medicine in a way that goes against the research-driven guidelines by experts in women’s health, this regulation could deprive Arizona women of access to medication abortion altogether.”

Arizona’s medication abortion restrictions are similar to those passed in states like Texas that have also sought to severely restrict, if not ban altogether, the practice of medication abortion despite concerns raised by the medical community. Last summer, the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) came out against the efforts in Texas and elsewhere to dictate medical practice by forcing physicians who prescribe medication abortions follow Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol. “Legislators should not block advances in medical care by prohibiting physicians from incorporating the best, and most current, scientific evidence into their patient care,” the ACOG brief in opposition to the Texas restrictions notes. “Requiring physicians to follow a protocol that is scientifically proven to be inferior to other regimens is an unwarranted intrusion in the physician-patient relationship. The practice of medicine should be based on the latest scientific research and medical advances.”

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ACOG and the Society of Family Planning reiterated this point in new guidelines on medication abortion issued recently writing that, “Based on efficacy and adverse effect profile, evidence-based protocols for medical abortion are superior to the FDA-approved regimen.”

The connection between lawmakers ignoring science and medical practice while simultaneously promoting anti-choice restrictions in the name of women’s health was echoed by Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Arizona politicians have imposed restrictions that go against years of scientific research and doctors’ practical experience in yet another effort to block women’s access to safe and legal abortion,” she said.

The restrictions on medication abortion are just the latest attacks on women’s health care in the state. Anti-choice lawmakers in Arizona already successfully limited medication abortion in Arizona by banning nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants from providing the service in 2011. Meanwhile, Arizona politicians passed an unconstitutional ban on abortion at 20 weeks in 2012, which was permanently struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a forceful decision reaffirming reproductive rights that the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to review. Last month, the Supreme Court also kept in place a decision that blocked efforts to strip Planned Parenthood health-care clinics from the state’s Medicaid program. Just this week, Arizona Republicans advanced yet another anti-choice measure, this time a bill that would allow for the surprise inspection of abortion clinics.

Reproductive rights advocates have had mixed results, so far, challenging restrictions on medication abortions. Similar restrictions were upheld by federal courts in Ohio and in Texas, while the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down that state’s medication abortion restriction, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court declined to overrule, while a state court in North Dakota blocked a similar law there.