With one amendment, Arizona lawmakers agreed to make several changes to controversial anti-abortion laws adopted in recent years, a move that should settle three costly legal challenges to those laws.
A conference committee of three representatives and three senators voted to amend SB1112 with language repealing a law signed by Gov. Doug Ducey just weeks ago that would have required doctors to administer medication abortions using outdated U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols. The amendment also repeals a law adopted in 2015 that required doctors and the state Department of Health Services to tell women that medication abortions can be reversed.
The full House and Senate must still adopt the changes to SB1112 and the governor must sign it before the amendment can take effect.
The state is currently defending itself against three lawsuits related to those laws, each of which was pushed by the influential pro-life group the Center for Arizona Policy.
Josh Kredit, an attorney for the group, said the amendment should free the state from the burden of defending itself in each case.
Ducey last month signed SB1324 days after the FDA amended the label for mifepristone, the first of two drugs collectively known as the abortion pill. The label, which outlines protocols for administering the drug, was amended on March 29 to align with current practices used by doctors – practices Republican lawmakers argued earlier this year weren’t in the best interest of women’s health.
When he signed the bill, the governor said he stood ready to make changes to the law “given the unexpected action by the FDA.”
Center for Arizona Policy President Cathy Herrod initially said her organization was considering all available options in the wake of the FDA’s move. But Kredit said there simply wasn’t enough time left in the legislative session to amend the law to the Center for Arizona Policy’s liking.
The group will work on new language in the interim, with hopes of pushing new legislation in 2017, Kredit said.
By repealing SB1324, lawmakers also removed language they initially adopted into law in 2012. That was their first attempt at tying medication abortions to FDA protocols, and a law that led to legal challenges against the state in local and federal courts.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals placed an injunction on that law, while a judge in Maricopa County Superior Court ruled it unconstitutional. Both cases should be settled by the amendment, Kredit said.
The amendment to SB1112 also repeals language in last year’s SB1318, which requires doctors to tell women who are seeking an abortion that it “may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion if the woman changes her mind but that time is of the essence.” Doctors are also required to tell their patients that information and assistance in reversing the effects of a medication abortion is available on the Arizona Department of Health Services website.
Instead, new language adopted by the conference committee would require doctors and abortion clinic staff to inform women who are having second thoughts about having an abortion after taking mifepristone that the first drug alone is not always enough to end the pregnancy.
That law directs women to a small number of doctors in Arizona and around the country who have experimented with a procedure in which large doses of progesterone are injected into patients who’ve taken mifepristone, but haven’t taken the second drug of the medication abortion protocol.
A group of doctors and Planned Parenthood Arizona, which sued the state to block the law from taking effect last year, argued such a procedure was medically untested and unproven.
However, gynecologists acknowledged that taking mifepristone alone, without the second drug, is not always enough to terminate a pregnancy – by providing women with that information, women having second thoughts will now be informed there’s a chance their pregnancy can be saved, Kredit said.