Arizona Anti-Abortion Pill Law Blocked

A federal appeals court blocked enforcement of Arizona’s restriction on the use of the “morning after” abortion pill Tuesday.

Planned Parenthood, which challenged the law, “presented uncontroverted evidence in the district court that many women who choose medication abortion strongly prefer it over surgical abortion, which is particularly important consideration for survivors of rape or sexual abuse,” said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The decision enjoins Arizona regulations that the state argued would protect women from the dangers of an abortion pill.  The panel overturned the district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction for Planned Parenthood and other abortion groups.

In 2012 in Arizona, 43 percent of all abortions performed in the first nine weeks of pregnancy were medication abortions, according to the court.

“We hold the plaintiffs have shown a likelihood of success on their claim that the Arizona law imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion,” wrote Judge William Fletcher.  The order extends and emergency stay issued by the appeals court in April.

Opponents of the regulations, including Planned Parenthood of Arizona, which sued to block the restrictions, said the rules would force doctors to use inferior, out-of-date medical care for medication abortion.  In addition, the regulations ban the use of medication abortion after seven weeks of pregnancy.

Arizona issued regulations, approved by Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012, to restrict use of certain drugs that would end a pregnancy at its earliest stages and avoid surgical abortion.

The groups argued the state’s regulation placed an undue burden on the rights of women to obtain an abortion.  The 9th Circuit agreed.

The decision splits with the 5th Circuit, which held that courts may not consider the strength of the state’s justification, stating that an abortion regulation need only be supported by “rational speculation.” And it breaks with the 6th Circuit holding that an Ohio abortion regulation was an undue burden without considering the strength of the state’s justification for the regulation.

Fletcher, writing for the 9th Circuit panel said both those decisions “are inconsistent with the undue burden test as articulated and applied” in two U.S. Supreme Court cases.

The 5th and 6th Circuit approach “fails to recognize that the undue burden test is context-specific, and that both the severity of a burden and the strength of the state’s justification can vary depending on the circumstances,” he said.

Case: Planned Parenthood of Arizona v. Humble, No. 14-15624


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