The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked Arizona from enforcing a law that would severely restrict patient access to medical abortion pills.
By refusing to hear (pdf) the state’s appeal, the Court will prevent the law from going into effect, although the legislation will remain intact.
Arizona’s abortion pill limits are the strictest in the nation. The law, which was passed by Governor Jan Brewer’s administration in April 2012, follows outdated federal guidelines which prevent women from taking the drug after the seventh week of pregnancy, despite Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules allowing for its use at up to nine weeks.
The case can now move on to trial to determine whether the law places an undue burden on a patient’s right to choose, which would violate a precedent set by the Court’s 1992 ruling on Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
“By allowing to stand the Ninth Circuit’s strong decision blocking this underhanded law, the U.S. Supreme Court has ensured Arizona women will continue to have the same critical and constitutionally protected health care tomorrow that they have today,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said on Monday.
Shortly after the law passed in 2012, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary emergency injunction to block the legislation from going into effect, siding with a lawsuit filed against the state by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood.
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The court upheld its ruling earlier this year, stating in June that the law would likely cause women to suffer irreparable harm. In addition to the restricted time limits, the legislation would enforce higher dosages and require them to be taken at a clinic, increasing cost and risk of complications, the court said at the time.
The state claimed the law was created to protect women. Arizona Solicitor General Robert Ellman told the court in June that “[t]he primary, if not sole purpose, of this legislation is maternal health.”
But Planned Parenthood disagreed. One of its lawyers, Alice Chapman, said the rules were “less effective, much more expensive and expose women to unnecessary side effects.”
Arizona legislation represents the shrinking map of abortion access nationwide, but its effects are particularly risky in the state, where Planned Parenthood is the only abortion provider, says Jessica Pieklo at RH Reality Check. “Should Planned Parenthood be forced to end medication abortions because of the requirements, patients in that part of the state would be forced to travel an average of 321 miles round trip, twice, to access medication abortion,” she writes.
Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said on Monday that the Supreme Court made the right decision, “but this dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place.”
“Politicians are not medical experts—but politicians have written this law with the ultimate goal of making safe, legal abortion hard or even impossible to access,” Richards added. “We are pleased that the courts are recognizing that these unconstitutional laws hurt women and block access to safe medical care.”
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