AZ Legislature Passes Measure Invalidating Many Recent Restrictions on Medication Abortion

The Arizona legislature passed a measure today which essentially invalidates many of the state’s most recent attempts to restrict access to medication abortion—a safe method of ending an early pregnancy that women in the United States have been using for nearly two decades.

 Specifically, the measure (SB 1112) would:

  • fully repeal a measure (SB 1324) signed by Governor Doug Ducey (R) last month which would force women to use a method of medication abortion that appears on the outdated drug label originally approved by the FDA over 15 years ago in 2000.  Remarkably, Governor Ducey signed the measure only two days after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it approved a change to the label for medication abortion--sold under the label Mifeprex® in the United States--in order to better reflect current medical practice and knowledge gained from scientific evidence accumulated over recent years.  Flying in the face of advances in medicine and science, SB 1324 would have required women to follow the outdated protocol, which was based on data from the 1990s.

    SB 1324 amended a 2102 version of the law—which also would have required women to follow the outdated regimen.  The 2012 version has never taken effect due to two (one in state court, one in federal court) successful challenges from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.
  • remove a requirement found in a 2015 measure that forces doctors to lie to women by telling them that it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion.  The measure has never taken effect due to a successful challenge from the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Planned Parenthood.

SB1112 also includes language establishing the legislature’s intent to resolve the three lawsuits referenced above.  It now heads to the desk of the governor, who we expect to sign the measure. 

“After years of meddling with women’s access to medication abortion, the Arizona legislature has finally listened to scientific and medical evidence by repealing their previous attacks on this safe, legal method of ending an early pregnancy,” said Amanda Allen, Senior State Legislative Counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  “We now look to Governor Ducey to sign this measure into law and finally put an end to this round of politically motivated assaults on women’s reproductive health care.”

Case histories

2012 medication abortion restrictions requiring women to use outdated FDA label

The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, filed the challenge to Arizona’s restrictions on medication in March 2014.  On March 31, a federal trial court failed to block the restrictions; women’s health care providers and advocates immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse that decision, a request which the court granted temporarily a few days later.  In a unanimous opinion issued in June 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court decision—ensuring that women in the state continued to have access to medication abortion.  In December 2014, the U.S Supreme Court declined to review the restrictions.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Federation of America also filed a case in state court challenging the law on separate, state grounds in April 2014.  That lawsuit was successful when a state superior court permanently blocked the restrictions from taking effect in October 2015.  Recently, the state moved to appeal the October ruling.  The federal case has been on hold as the state lawsuit progresses.

Measure forcing doctor to lie to women about possibility of “reversing” a medication abortion

The Center for Reproductive Rights—along with attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arizona, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PFFA), and Squire Patton Boggs—filed a challenge to the state law in June 2015.  A few weeks later, the state temporarily agreed to block the law.  In October 2015, the state requested the federal district court further postpone trial while continuing to block the law.  The state said it need additional months to prepare because its “primary expert” lacked the "publication and research background and experience" to be qualified as an expert witness. 

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