TUCSON, AZ - New rules that would block many women in Arizona from having pill-induced abortions are getting a closer look by a federal judge who will decide whether to put the restrictions on hold as a legal challenge plays out in the courts.
Judge David C. Bury will hear oral arguments Wednesday in Tucson and likely decide on whether or not to grant a request for a temporary injunction by Planned Parenthood Arizona and the private abortion clinic Tucson Women's Center, who say the rules are unconstitutional and severely infringe on a woman's ability to have an abortion.
The rules released in January by the Arizona Department of Health Services are set to take effect Tuesday. The restrictions ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug -- RU-486 -- after the seventh week of pregnancy. Existing rules allow women to take the pill through nine weeks of pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood says the change will unnecessarily force women to undergo surgical abortions. The group estimates that 800 women would have had to get surgical abortions in 2012 if the rules were in effect then.
The Arizona Legislature in the past few years has approved a number of aggressive anti-abortion measures. A House of Representatives-approved bill that is being considered by the Senate would allow for surprise, warrantless inspections of abortion clinics. Proponents of the bill say it protects women from clinics that are not up to health standards. Opponents say it puts women at risk and violates their privacy.
When the new rules were announced in January, abortion rights 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.
The rules require that the drug be administered only at the FDA-approved dosage no later than seven weeks into a pregnancy instead of nine weeks, and that both doses be taken at the clinic. The usual dose is lower and now usually taken at home, decreasing the cost and chance of complications.
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 Center for Arizona Policy, a powerful anti-abortion group that pushed the 2012 law, has pushed a series of anti-abortion bills that have become law. Two of those, a ban on Medicaid money for any of Planned Parenthood non-abortion services and a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, have been blocked by federal courts.