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Arizona's Medical Abortion Drug Restriction Put on Hold

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 02, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

RU-486. Expect this to be the "next big thing" in abortion-related litigation.

We've already seen restrictions on the drug, and on medical (drug-based, as opposed to surgical) abortions nearly reach the Supreme Court, before the case was dismissed as improvidently granted after a state court nixed Oklahoma's RU-486 law, then clarified its reasoning.

A similar battle is being fought in Arizona, where the state passed HR 2036, a law that requires providers to abide by the FDA's strict protocol for delivering the drug, including the notable requirement of having a doctor present, requiring two visits to the clinic, and limiting the time for treatment to seven weeks.

A district court denied Planned Parenthood and Tucson Women's Center's request for an injunction against the law on Monday, but this morning, the Ninth Circuit stepped in and blocked the law, which was set to take effect today.

RU-486 and the FDA Label

We've rehashed this a few times in the Oklahoma case, so we'll give you the short, simplified version.

RU-486 is a combination of two drugs, approved by the FDA for use as a drug-based regimen for inducing an abortion. The FDA regimen, as initially approved, limited the time frame for treatment to up to seven weeks, required a specific dosage, and required a doctor to be present. It also requires two visits to the doctor, instead of allowing patients to take the second drug at home.

Since then, doctors and medical associations have changed the protocol, lengthening the time frame to nine weeks, reducing the dosage, and making other changes based on experience and, what their medical expertise indicates, is a safer course.

Arizona's law would require providers to adhere strictly to that protocol, which would require women between 7 and 9 weeks to obtain a surgical abortion, would require a doctor to be present, and would require a second trip to the abortion clinic or doctor's office.

District Court: No Injunction

While noting that the plaintiffs' evidence showed that the commonly practiced regimen is safer than the FDA protocol, District Court Judge David C. Bury applied the rational basis test and held that "[t]he State need not legislate the best means by which to achieve a goal."

"Given the ready availability of a safe alternative method of abortion, Plaintiffs have a difficult evidentiary burden to establish HR 2036 is a substantial obstacle to a woman's right to obtain a first trimester abortion in Arizona," he wrote.

The Ninth Circuit, however, must've felt differently, as they put a hold on the law earlier today, reports Bloomberg.

Prepare yourselves, folks. This is just the beginning of a long, long line of litigation.

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