- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona moved Monday to implement new abortion rules limiting the use of the most common abortion-inducing drug and requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospitals.

The rules require that the most common abortion-inducing drug be administered only at the FDA-approved dosage no later than seven weeks into a pregnancy, and that both doses be taken at the clinic. The usual dose is lower, decreasing the chance of complications and the cost, and used up to nine weeks. The second dose is usually taken a day later at the woman’s home.

The rules also require that physicians who perform surgical abortions have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and that doctors administering abortion-inducing drugs have admission rights. It also required abortion clinics to report complications that require ambulance transport of a patient.

The proposed rules published Monday by the Health Services Department were required under a 2012 law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer. A portion of the law banning abortions after 20 weeks was struck down last year, but the other provisions remain in effect.

The new regulations will go into effect April 1.

The limits on using the drug mifepristone, commonly called RU-486, are the most problematic of the new rules, said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization.

“This would mean that it would be incredibly difficult to provide medication abortion in Arizona,” Nash said. “They’re both effective, and they’re both safe. But the off-label protocol is simply a better protocol when you consider the costs and the side effects. And the limit with the FDA protocol, that one can only be used up to seven weeks, and the off-label can be used up to nine weeks of pregnancy.”

Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy, hailed the new rules.

“The new regulations are important to protect women’s health and safety when they enter an abortion clinic,” Herrod said. She said following the Food and Drug Administration-approved protocol is the safest use of RU-486, even though many other drugs are used “off-label.”

“In the abortion context, the (FDA) approved a very specific protocol for how women should be given the abortion pill,” Herrod said. “The intent of the Arizona regulations is that this protocol would be followed in order to provide for women’s health and safety when they’re having an abortion.”

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said the regulations require “physicians to use an inferior, out-of-date method of care for medication abortion instead of the guidelines supported by the most trusted professional and scientific organizations.”

“In addition to forcing doctors in Arizona to administer medication abortion in a way that goes against the research-driven guidelines by experts in women’s health, these regulations would deprive many women of the option of medication abortion by banning it after seven weeks of pregnancy,” Howard said in a statement.

The most recent state report, covering 2012, showed that 13,340 abortions were performed in Arizona, with 32 percent involving a non-surgical procedure using medicine. More than 95 percent used RU-486 in combination with another drug.

Ohio and Texas have similar laws requiring the use of only FDA-approved protocols for drug-abortions.

The Arizona Legislature has seen proposals to restrict abortion advance nearly every session in recent years. The only bill introduced so far this year would allow surprise inspections of abortion clinics by the Health Department. A similar effort failed last year. House Bill 2284 also would make it a misdemeanor to assist a minor in obtaining an abortion if the effort is made to avoid the state’s parental consent law.

The state licenses four abortion clinics and five outpatient treatment clinics authorized to perform abortions.

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