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Supreme Court rejects Az appeal to enforce abortion law

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Supreme Court rejects Az appeal to enforce abortion law

  • William & Mary ACS/Flickr

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Arizona officials to reverse an injunction, which blocks the enforcement of new rules aimed at the use of medication-based abortions in the state.

The decision keeps the state from requiring abortion providers to follow FDA guidelines created in 2000, which are out of date according to medical experts.

The high court's decision means that an injunction by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals preventing the law from going into effect will remain while the lawsuit continues.

In June, a three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit said the law’s opponents had produced “uncontroverted evidence that the Arizona law substantially burdens a women’s access to abortion services.”

At the heart of the case is how doctors prescribe the medication RU-486, which was limited after new rules went into place in January 2014 because of a controversial bill passed by Arizona's legislators in 2012. 

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, said it was rare for the court to grant a petition.

"As of now the decision effectively nullifies part of the statute," she wrote. "We can't require abortion clinics to follow the FDA protocol for medication abortions."

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which joined the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, celebrated the high court's refusal.

"By allowing to stand the Ninth Circuit’s strong decision blocking this underhanded law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ensured Arizona women will continue to have the same critical and constitutionally protected health care tomorrow that they have today,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Often called the "abortion pill," the medication has been widely used since 2000 after approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. However in the last 15 years, doctors have adjusted how they prescribe the medication, giving a lower dose and allowing for the use of a second round of medication at home. Doctors have prescribed the medication up to the ninth week of pregnancy, beyond the seven weeks laid out in the original FDA guidelines.

The state has argued that the "off-label" use is risky.

During a court hearing in March, the state argued that Planned Parenthood had been "experimenting with the protocols."

"They claim that their current protocol is safest thing in the world, but the FDA hasn't approved it," said Assistant Attorney General Michael Tyron.

 However, Planned Parenthood rejected that argument, arguing that over 700,000 women have used medication-based abortion in the last decade. According to the group, approximately one in four women choose this method, but in Arizona the number is closer to half.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said that"off-label" use is appropriate and have challenged Arizona's law. 

The Center for Reproductive Rights argued that law's requirements would particularly affect women in northern Arizona, where women have to travel an average of 321 miles for services at a Planned Parenthood center in Flagstaff. Women would have to travel to the center twice for an abortion under the original FDA guidelines.

Arizona follows four other states that have attempted similar legislation. Ohio and Texas were successful after challenges in federal court, but state courts in Oklahoma and North Dakota have blocked similar measures.

RU-486, known as mifepristone, is a different drug than the Plan B "morning-after pill," although the two drugs are commonly confused. Plan B contains a higher dose of the same hormones found in regular oral contraceptives.

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