PHOENIX - Abortion providers announced Wednesday that they have sued the state of Arizona to try to block new state rules limiting the use of the most common abortion-inducing drugs.
The federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tucson by Planned Parenthood Arizona and Tucson Women's Center alleges that the new rules required under a 2012 law will effectively block the ability of many women to use medication abortions. Lawyers for the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America are representing them.
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.
The rules also require that physicians who perform surgical abortions have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and that doctors administering abortion-inducing drugs have admission rights. It also required abortion clinics to report complications that require ambulance transport of a patient. Those rules aren't being challenged.
A health services spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
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 blocking abortions after 20 weeks, have been blocked by federal courts. The 20-week ban was included in the same 2012 law, House Bill 2026, as the new rules on medication abortions.
"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'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."
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 Arizona Legislature has seen proposals to restrict abortion advance nearly every session in recent years. The only bill introduced so far this year would allow surprise inspections of abortion clinics by the Health Department. The House of Representatives passed House Bill 2284 on Tuesday. It also makes it a misdemeanor to assist a minor in obtaining an abortion if the effort is made to avoid the state's parental consent law.
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.
The new rules would have forced about 800 women to undergo surgical abortions because they ban drug use after seven weeks, Howard said.
"Arizona is simply trying to rob women of their constitutionally protected rights," said David Brown, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.