- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - The Republican-controlled Arizona House on Thursday approved new restrictions on the use of a common abortion drug and sent the legislation to Gov. Doug Ducey, whose signature would set off a renewed court battle.

Senate Bill 1324 bars doctors from prescribing a common abortion drug after seven weeks of pregnancy, two fewer weeks than is now commonly used, and requires it to be taken only in Food and Drug Administration-approved doses. Most abortions using the drug, known as RU-486, are now done at much lower doses.

Ducey has not said if he will sign the legislation, but he opposes abortion and has previously signed legislation targeting abortion providers.

A federal appeals court blocked a similar 2012 law, saying it likely would cause women irreparable harm and therefore violated the federal constitution. A state judge last year hearing a different challenge on the same 2012 law found it violated the state constitution because it made state law contingent on changeable FDA guidelines.

The new legislation, which passed the Senate last month with one Democrat joining all Republicans in support, is designed to deal with the state court ruling. Proponents, including the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy backing the proposal, say it is designed to remove the state court issue and allow the federal case to be heard on the merits.

The House also approved two other bills targeting abortion or providers on Thursday. 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.

Lawmakers debating the medication abortion bill Wednesday raised the cost of continued litigation as an issue. But they mostly were concerned about forcing doctors to use a drug dosage that has been shown to be higher than needed. Most opposition came from Democrats, but four Republicans also opposed the bill, including Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman.

“I’m tired of paying for Planned Parenthood’s lawyers, and if we put this into law today I think that we are going to just continue this,” Cobb said. “I would ask when you all consider today when you take this vote, are we putting the safety of women in the No. 1 priority, are we taking away the doctor patient relationship? Is this constitutional? And I don’t think it is any of those things.”

“The courts intervened because this puts women’s health at risk,” said Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, a retired physician. “And what we’re doing, because of our political beliefs, we’re imposing our beliefs on the practice of medicine and the right for women to choose what they want to do with their bodies, and that is wrong.”

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it was absolutely the role of the Legislature to pass laws protecting the public. “We have a responsibility to make sure that women are safe, as we have a responsibility to make sure that others are safe when they’re getting medical procedures,” Farnsworth said.

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