Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday announced he had signed three bills targeting abortion providers, including one requiring them to follow outdated federal guidelines for the most common abortion drug and prescribe it at much higher doses than needed.
The law boldly defies new FDA rules implemented this week on abortion drugs.
The signing of the bill, Senate Bill 1324, is likely to jump-start a federal court case that had blocked a previous version of the legislation. The bill bars doctors from prescribing the drug commonly known as RU-486 after seven weeks of pregnancy and requires it to be taken only at Food and Drug Administration-approved doses in effect until this week. It also requires the two doses of the drug to be taken at a clinic, while providers now send the patient home with the second pill to be taken days after the first.
Much lower doses have been commonly used for years, and at up to nine weeks' pregnancy. The FDA adopted those medical protocols on Wednesday, updating the drug's label, and boosted the time it can be taken to 10 weeks' pregnancy.
Courts blocked a similar 2012 law, and a federal injunction remains in place against that legislation.
In a signing statement, the Republican governor said the legislature acted in good faith in approving the legislation to deal with the lawsuit brought by abortion providers.
"In such a case, I will always stand with those advocating life," Ducey wrote. "I recognize that given the unexpected actions of the FDA, some changes may need to be made in a later bill, and I stand ready to consider those changes when they reach my desk."
The legislation was backed by the anti-abortion group the Center for Arizona Policy, whose president, Cathi Herrod, is a powerful force at the Republican-controlled Legislature. In a statement, the organization said: "Center for Arizona Policy stands with Gov. Ducey on his statement and will be working with legislative leaders to respond appropriately."
Ducey also signed two other bills targeting abortion or abortion providers. One, Senate Bill 1474, bars abortion providers from transferring fetal tissue for use in research. Planned Parenthood's Arizona affiliate said it doesn't provide fetal tissue for research. The second, Senate Bill 1485, puts into law a ban on state employees directing charitable donations to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood Arizona through paycheck deduction. That ban was adopted by a board controlled by Ducey last year.
Planned Parenthood Arizona spokeswoman Jodi Liggett said the governor should have vetoed the abortion medication legislation, especially because he recognizes it likely will need to be immediately revamped to deal with the new FDA guidelines. She said she expects legislation to fix the issue to emerge quickly.
"By fix it we take it to mean they'll just lock the new label into place in perpetuity, which is pretty silly and is all about face-saving and not about any rational policy at all," Liggett said. "That's a lot of time and effort just to appease Cathi Herrod."
The FDA's action on Wednesday adopted the evidence-based protocol for RU-486, formally called Mifeprex, that has been used for years. Several states, including Arizona, had taken steps to require that it be used at doses adopted in 2000. The drug's manufacturer asked the FDA for the revised label.
"I think they realized that the original label was being used as a way to make it harder for women to get abortions," Liggett said. "It was not about health care at all. It was about creating barriers for women to get this kind of abortion care."