TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - A federal judge deciding a legal challenge of new Arizona restrictions on abortion drugs cast doubt Wednesday on the medical evidence cited by abortion opponents to establish the rules.
Judge David C. Bury heard arguments in Tucson on a request by Planned Parenthood Arizona to temporarily block the new abortion restrictions that are set to take effect on Tuesday. Bury did not immediately make a decision.
The rules released in January by the Arizona Department of Health Services 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.
During arguments that lasted about an hour, Bury questioned whether the state had enough evidence to prove that requiring the drug be administered only at the FDA-approved dosage and in a clinic instead of at home would benefit women’s health. He also questioned why women whose health is threatened by a pregnancy are not exempt from the new rules, which were spurred by 2012 law approved by the state Legislature.
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.
An attorney for the organization also said on Wednesday that the new rules could force its Flagstaff abortion clinic to suspend operations because the clinic does not offer surgical abortions.
“There is no conceivable way this law makes a single woman safer,” attorney Alice Clapman said.
Bury said he was confused by studies cited in the bill that address health threats posed by mifespristone, commonly called RU-486. He also questioned whether using drugs outside of FDA-approved protocols poses health threats.
“What evidence or study is there that suggests off-label use of the drug is riskier?” he asked.
Clapman said there is not any evidence suggesting the current medications pose harm, and that in fact they make for safer abortions. She said such claims made in the legislation that spurred the law came from an anti-abortion group.
“This is not a medical organization, so it absolutely lacks citation. I can’t tell you where they’re coming from,” she said.
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’s non-abortion services and a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, have been blocked by federal courts.
Attorney Mike Tryon, representing the state, said he could prove there is enough evidence showing that administering only at the FDA-approved dosages is safer. The state was not given enough time to put the case together as Planned Parenthood Arizona filed for the injunction only three weeks ago, he said.
Planned Parenthood is wrong in its claim that the rules would cause many women to lose access to abortions, Tryon said. “This law does not ban abortions at all. It regulates medical abortions,” he said.
Tryon also disputed claims that the rules would pose excessive burden on women seeking abortions.