The law in question was brought into force in 2012. It requires abortion providers in Arizona to follow a directive from the Food and Drug Administration that was written in 2000. It specifies that RU-486 should be given in higher doses than it is often offered at today, and only during the first seven weeks of pregnancy.
New Protocol for RU-486
However, in the 14 years since that directive was issued, clinicians have discovered that a lower dose is sufficient to induce an abortion and the drug can also safely be administered until the ninth week of pregnancy. Medical experts say the original directive issued by the FDA is outdated, inefficient, and dangerous to the health of women.
The “off-label” use of RU-486, which Arizona tried to block, would have allowed this newer treatment regimen to be used. The state said the law prohibiting access to RU-486 was justified because of a risk to women who were using the drug in a way that was not specified by the FDA.
Reproductive Rights Endangered in Arizona
Arizona is one of several states with a Republican government that is seeking to place limits on access to abortion. Under the law Arizona was seeking to have upheld, many women would be forced to have unnecessary surgical abortions, according to the reproductive rights group Planned Parenthood. That group sued the state to block the enforcement of the law.
Planned Parenthood said if the law were to stand, it would make it next to impossible for women in Northern Arizona — where there is only one abortion clinic — to terminate a pregnancy.
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked the Arizona law, saying it imposes an “undue burden” for women seeking to have an abortion.
Judge William Fletcher wrote, “Arizona has presented no evidence whatsoever that the law furthers any interest in women’s health… for a significant number of women, the law will ban medication abortions outright because many women do not discover they are pregnant” within the seven-week period outlined by the original 2000 FDA directive on the use of RU-486.
The attorney general for Arizona, Thomas Horne, asked the Supreme Court to hear the state’s appeal. He said the continued availability of surgical abortions in the state was sufficient to allow women to access the procedure. The law was part of a package of legislation signed into law by Arizona governor Jan Brewer in 2012, and part of a continuing effort to find ways to restrict abortion access in the state.
The Supreme Court last heard an abortion-related issue in 2007 when it ruled to uphold a federal law banning a particular last-minute abortion procedure.