Medical Groups File Brief With Ninth Circuit Against Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions

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Medical Groups File Brief With Ninth Circuit Against Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists filed a friend of the court brief detailing how restrictions on medication abortion hurt patient safety and interfere with standards of medical care.

In preparation for upcoming oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in the fight over new Arizona regulations on medication abortions, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Medical Association (AMA) filed a joint amicus curiae brief in support of the reproductive rights advocates challenging the regulations.

At issue in the lawsuit are regulations that require abortion providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol when administering medication abortions. In March, reproductive rights advocates sued to block the new restrictions, arguing they threatened to ban entirely medication abortion in the state and were unconstitutional. A lower court disagreed and ruled the regulations could go into effect April 1. Advocates immediately filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which issued a temporary emergency injunction blocking the lower court order and preventing the regulations from taking effect pending a hearing on the appeal.

Arizona’s medication abortion restrictions are similar to those passed in states like Texas that, while passed under the guise of promoting patient safety, seek to severely restrict, if not ban altogether, the practice of medication abortion. The brief filed by ACOG and the AMA goes right to the heart of the “patient safety” concerns to detail the damage these kinds of abortion restrictions inflict in the community. According to the medical organizations, there is simply “no evidence” that these kinds of restrictions promote patient health and safety.

The law also jeopardizes women’s health, the organizations state, by “requiring that physicians deny women the benefit of the most current, well-researched, safe, evidence-based and proven protocols for the provision of medical abortion, and, instead, prescribe a regime that is less safe.” The result, the doctors argue, is a legislative mandate that is against the best interests of patients and forces doctors to “depart from their ethical obligation to provide the best possible care for their patients using their sound medical judgment—insisting, rather, that physicians substitute the judgment of the Arizona legislature for their own.”

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Arizona’s fight over medication abortion is the latest front where the medical community has amplified its objections to increased meddling by anti-choice lawmakers into medical practice and patient care. Last year, the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out against the efforts in Texas and elsewhere to dictate medical practice by forcing physicians who prescribe medication abortions to follow FDA protocol. But despite opposition from the medical community, federal and state courts have split on blocking similar restrictions. Most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld similar restrictions in Texas, while another federal court did the same for Ohio. However, 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.

A second lawsuit challenging the Arizona medication abortion restrictions is also pending in state court. That lawsuit was filed before the Ninth Circuit had issued a ruling on the federal action, but advocates note that the two cases are not dependent on one another. The state court action argues that because the regulation of doctors is a matter of state concern, the Arizona legislature violated Arizona law by unlawfully delegating to the FDA a matter of state concern. The complaint also claims that Arizona lawmakers violated their own rule-making procedures when passing the regulations, because they failed to provide for enough time for the public to comment, as required under law. The state court action seeks a declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional and an injunction stopping its enforcement.

The hearing before the Ninth Circuit is scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 13 in San Francisco, California.