A federal judge has refused to block a new Arizona law that restricts women’s access to the abortion pill, ensuring that it will take effect on Tuesday. Now, some women in the state will lose the ability to end an early pregnancy with a non-surgical method — for no good medical reason.
Under Arizona’s law, providers are now forced to administer the abortion pill in an outdated and less efficient way. They must use a higher dosage of the abortion-inducing medication, even though medical professionals now know that a lower dose is safer, more effective, and cheaper. And women may only take the pill up to seven weeks of pregnancy, despite the fact that medication abortion is typically administered up to nine weeks. Ultimately, the new law will require some Arizona women to have a surgical abortion procedure instead of a medication-induced procedure.
That’s particularly a problem in the northern part of the state, where the sole provider only offers the pill and doesn’t perform surgical abortions. Under the new restrictions, some women could be forced to travel hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic. They’ll also potentially need to stay overnight in a different city, since the outdated protocol requires doctors to administer abortion-inducing medication on two separate occasions.
“This law serves no purpose other than to prevent Arizona women from using a safe alternative to surgical abortion and force their doctors to follow an outdated, riskier, and less effective method,” David Brown, a staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, explained in a statement released on Monday. “This is what happens when politicians, not doctors, practice medicine.”
Brown’s organization, along with Planned Parenthood, filed a federal lawsuit last month in an attempt to overturn the law. Planned Parenthood asked U.S. District Judge David C. Bury to issue a temporary injunction against Arizona’s abortion pill restriction while that suit makes its way through the court system. But Bury refused.
Bury, a federal judge who was appointed by George W. Bush, agreed that Arizona’s law will make the process of obtaining a first-trimester abortion more time-consuming, more expensive, and potentially more difficult. But he doesn’t believe those obstacles are enough to justify blocking it, writing that those issues “do not qualify as irreparable harm.” He acknowledged that the current practice for administering medication abortion is safe and endorsed by major medical groups, but maintained that the plaintiffs in the case haven’t established “that the hardship balance tips sharply towards them.”
Planned Parenthood is sharply criticizing Bury for siding with legislators, even after acknowledging the fact that Arizona’s law isn’t necessarily based in scientific evidence.
“It is appalling that politicians are overriding doctors’ ability to provide the highest quality medical care for women in Arizona. In fact, they are dictating to physicians how to provide care, rather than allowing doctors to follow the best, most up-to-date practices. And, the court agreed that this is precisely what Arizona politicians are allowed to do,” Bryan Howard, the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, noted in a statement. “Lawmakers have the ability to make laws, even if they harm women.”
Imposing unnecessary restrictions on medication abortion is becoming a popular anti-choice tactic. According to the Guttmacher Institute, four other states besides Arizona have also attempted to undermine abortion access by requiring doctors to adhere to outdated regulations for administering the pill. The proliferation of these laws is bolstered by Americans United for Life, an anti-choice group that shops around draft legislation to conservative lawmakers. But, since they’re typically complicated requirements that don’t appear to be that concerning on the surface, they often fly under the radar.
For instance, this type of medication abortion regulation is part of Texas’ controversial new anti-abortion law that went into effect this fall. Although the provision regarding the abortion pill doesn’t get as much press as the other restrictions in Texas, it’s already putting a substantial burden on women who want to end an early pregnancy, requiring them to make up to four visits to the same doctor.
This aspect of Texas’ law was partially upheld, and a similar restriction in Ohio also received a mixed ruling. But other abortion pill restrictions have been stuck down altogether in North Dakota and Oklahoma. The ongoing legal challenge in Arizona may eventually put this issue in front of the Supreme Court.
Arizona has recently launched several other attacks on abortion that have ended up getting blocked in court. The state has attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortions at 20 weeks, but both efforts were unsuccessful. Nonetheless, state lawmakers keep trying. The Center for Arizona Policy, the same right-wing group that was behind Arizona’s controversial “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) in February, is working behind the scenes to continue pushing anti-choice legislation.
On Tuesday afternoon, Planned Parenthood filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court, asking the judges to overturn Bury’s ruling and block Arizona’s new law.