A state law regulating the use of drugs prescribed in medical abortions would put unfair obstacles in the paths of women seeking abortions, opponents of the law argued in federal court in Tucson on Wednesday.
“It will prevent some women from having an abortion all together and will impose medical risks,” said Alice Clapman, an attorney for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Clapman was in U.S. District Court in Tucson arguing before District Judge David C. Bury, seeking to have the implementation of an Arizona law halted pending a court challenge.
The law in question, passed in 2012 and scheduled to take effect April 1, would require abortion providers who offer medical abortions to use the drugs only in the FDA-approved manner or as described on product labeling.
The most common form of medical abortion uses a two-drug protocol of mifepristone and misoprostol. The second of the two, when used in medical abortions, is done so in an “off label” manner.
In effect, the drug is given at a much higher dosage than indicated on the label. The so-called “off label” use of drugs already under FDA approval is common and typically legal.
The law also would require women to take both drugs at the abortion clinic. Plaintiffs say this presents an obstacle because the drugs are taken over the course of days.
Clapman argued requiring only the labeled use of the drug could endanger the health of women because cases have occurred where some abortions weren’t effectively terminated when women used the lower dosage.
When that has occurred, some women required a surgical abortion to complete the process, causing additional health risks, she argued. Medical abortions are done in the first trimester of pregnancy.
In his comments, Bury said the right to abortion would remain intact even if the law went into effect, noting the Constitution protects the right to have an abortion but doesn’t protect specific methods.
Clapman said the law would place additional burdens on women seeking abortions, forcing many to undergo unwanted surgical abortions.
The law would impose an especially difficult burden on women in rural parts of the state, like Northern Arizona where there is only one abortion provider, Clapman said.
For those and other reasons, the plaintiffs want Bury to temporarily stop the law’s implementation.
Mike Tryon, with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said the law was intended to protect women’s health and would not prevent the practice of medical abortion.
“This law doesn’t ban abortion; it regulates medical abortion,” Tryon said.
In court filings, the state argued the regulations passed in the law fall under its obligations to protect the health of the public.
What the plaintiffs describe as burdens to getting an abortion would be no more than “inconveniences,” Tryon said.
He also said the plaintiffs appear to be shopping for judges more amenable to their views on abortion rights than those they have found in other regions.
“They are here to find a better audience in the 9th Circuit (Court of Appeals, which includes Arizona),” Tryon said.
Bury did not rule Wednesday on Planned Parenthood’s request for injunctive relief.
His ruling is expected before April 1, when the law is scheduled to take effect.