A federal district court judge on Friday continued to block an Arizona law that forces doctors to mislead patients by telling them that it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion.
The order comes less than a week before a scheduled trial on the Republican-sponsored measure, which is part of SB 1318, a law that primarily bans state residents from purchasing any health insurance plan that includes abortion coverage through the federal marketplace. The law includes a mandate that abortion providers must tell patients both orally and in writing that they may be able to reverse the effects of a medically induced abortion—a scientifically inaccurate claim.
Attorneys for the State of Arizona asked the court to postpone the trial, in part because its primary expert to defend the law lacked the “publication and research background and experience” to be qualified as an expert witness.
Federal courts are required to determine whether an expert is qualified to testify, including whether the expert’s methodology is sufficiently reliable to support the proposed opinions. The court must further decide whether the expert’s proposed testimony will, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, assist the court in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue.
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Dr. Mary Davenport of El Sobrante, California, is the State of Arizona’s principal witness in support of the measure. A member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Davenport bases her claims that a medically induced abortion can be reversed on a single anecdotal study of six patients, four of whom Davenport claims were able to carry pregnancies to term, despite ingesting mifepristone, by taking a dose of progesterone shortly after ingesting mifepristone.
No other scientific data exists to support Davenport’s claim.
This lone publication is not enough to qualify Davenport as an expert to testify in federal court, nor is it enough for the court to accept as evidence in support of the GOP-backed mandate that doctors tell patients that their medication abortion can be reversed because it cannot meet the court’s requirement that the state put forward evidence based on “reliable methods” that have “widespread acceptance.” Arizona’s anti-choice lawmakers did view it as enough evidence, however, to enact the “abortion reversal” mandate.
“This law is another example of extreme politicians harming women by writing junk science into law—an unfortunately common practice in too many states across the country,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement following the decision. “We are happy that Arizona women will not be forced to receive false information from their doctors for the duration of this case.”
This is the second time Arizona has agreed to put the requirement on hold while the legal challenge against it proceeds. The state agreed to temporarily block the law a few weeks later after the case was filed in June 2015.