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Friday July 3rd, 2015 6:08PM

Arizona sued over rules limiting abortion drug use

By The Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) -- Abortion providers said Wednesday that they have sued the state of Arizona to try to block new state rules limiting the use of the most common abortion drugs.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson alleges that the new rules required under a 2012 law will effectively block the ability of many women to have abortions.

The rules are the latest in a series of aggressive anti-abortion measures passed by the Arizona Legislature in recent years. The House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would allow surprise, warrantless inspections of abortion clinics, and lawmakers in 2012 enacted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The 20-week ban was later overturned by the courts.

Abortion rights supporters believe lawmakers are attempting to impose heavy-handed rules that make it impossible for many women to get abortions. Abortion opponents believe they are carrying out the will of the people in restricting a practice that they believe is morally wrong.

The rules released in January by the Arizona Department of Health Services are set to take effect April 1. They require that the most common abortion-inducing drug be administered only at the FDA-approved dosage no later than seven weeks into a pregnancy rather than nine weeks, and that both doses be taken at the clinic.

The usual dose is lower and usually taken at home, decreasing the cost and chance of complications.

Based on Arizona abortion statistics for 2012, the rules would have forced about 800 women to undergo surgical abortions because they ban drug use after seven weeks, Planned Parenthood Arizona president Bryan Howard said.

Ohio and Texas have similar laws requiring the use of only FDA-approved protocols for drug-abortions that have been upheld by federal courts. But state courts in Oklahoma and North Dakota have blocked similar rules.

The president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful anti-abortion group that pushed the 2012 law, issued a statement slamming the lawsuit.

The group has pushed a series of abortion restrictions in recent years that have become law. But two of those, a ban on Medicaid money for any of Planned Parenthood non-abortion services and the 20-week ban, have been blocked by federal courts.

"It is a shame that when Planned Parenthood can't win public opinion, they try to use the courts to impose their will and bail out their abortion business," the statement from Cathi Herrod said.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking the new rules from taking effect. It was filed by Planned Parenthood Arizona and Tucson Women's Center.

"It's clear the real purpose of House Bill 2026 was to restrict access to safe legal abortion in Arizona and to interfere in a woman's private medical decisions," Planned Parenthood Arizona president Bryan Howard said. "Planned Parenthood will continue to fight these dangerous laws with everything we have."

When the rules were announced in January, pro-abortion groups said the limits on using the drug mifepristone, commonly called RU-486, were the most problematic. The Arizona rules limit it to use under the Food and Drug Administration drug label approved in 2000, which uses a much higher dosage. That dosage is no longer routinely followed because doctors have found much lower dosages are just as effective when combined with a second drug.

"They're both effective, and they're both safe," Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization, said then. "But the off-label protocol is simply a better protocol when you consider the costs and the side effects. And the limit with the FDA protocol, that one can only be used up to seven weeks, and the off-label can be used up to nine weeks of pregnancy."

The most recent state report, covering 2012, showed that 13,340 abortions were performed in Arizona, with 32 percent involving a non-surgical procedure using medicine. More than 95 percent used RU-486 in combination with another drug.

Planned Parenthood's Howard said it provided abortion care to about 5,000 women last year who were in the ninth week of pregnancy or less. About half those were medication abortions.

"Arizona is simply trying to rob women of their constitutionally protected rights," said David Brown, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

A health services spokeswoman had no immediate comment Wednesday. But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kimberly Yee, also attacked Planned Parenthood.

"I think it's irresponsible for Planned Parenthood to try to get around an FDA-approved protocol regarding the dosage for which this abortion medication would be administered to women, because we're talking about the health and safety of women and the importance that the FDA felt with respect to a limit of seven weeks," Yee said. "As proponents of this bill, we stand and we approve of the Department of Health's regulations on this particular issue."
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