Starting on April 1, abortion got a whole lot less safe for Arizona women, who are facing tough new laws on medication abortion that force them to undergo an outdated and less safe version of the procedure, thanks to Arizona’s anti-choice legislature.
The laws were challenged in court by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Reproductive Rights, but a judge refused to rule against them — even after agreeing with the points made by the reproductive rights organizations.
Buh?! What just happened?
First, some background. Around the country, numerous anti-choice legislators and other officials are passing, or attempting to pass, laws that specifically single out abortion providers and clinics, with the express goal of making abortion less accessible. This is known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) and it’s totally legal, in addition to totally frustrating.
Some TRAP laws work by telling doctors how to practice medicine, while others reclassify abortion clinics as ambulatory surgery centers, forcing them to make costly renovations or close down. Others attempt to ban certain kinds of procedures, and more set up waiting periods and other restrictions on abortion.
In Arizona’s case, a 2012 law included a package of TRAP laws and restrictions on abortion. One of those laws was a 20 week abortion ban, which was struck down. Another ordered doctors to follow the label instructions on the drugs used in medication abortion. That might sound like a good thing — we want doctors following directions, right? — but it actually wasn’t. That’s because the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, along with other professional groups, has agreed on a new, evidence-based protocol for administering these drugs that is safer and more comfortable for patients.
This practice is quite common. When drugs are first released, the only information available about how to use them comes from tightly controlled clinical studies. As they’re more widely used and practitioners get used to them, they have an opportunity to refine dosing and come up with tricks to make them easier, safer and more comfortable to use. This is known as “evidence-based medicine,” and it’s what allows the practice of medicine to constantly get better. With the legislature telling doctors how to practice medicine despite its lack of medical experience, the state is sending a message that it should be able to control even minute aspects of women’s health care.
The judge in this case agreed that the evidence-based medicine argument put forward by Planned Parenthood was valid, and that this was clearly a superior and safer way to administer the drugs involved. However, he still sided with the state, refusing to strike down the law and allowing it to go into effect on April 1. The state has already restricted access to medication abortion by no longer allowing trained nurses to provide it, limiting the number of procedures across the state even though this option has been available in the United States for more than a decade and provides a safe, comfortable and compassionate form of abortion.
Shrinking options for Arizona women is bad news, as this could put them in the position of having to make dangerous choices in order to access abortion services — something that should worry the legislature, because illegal abortions can come with serious risks including infertility or even death.
Reproductive rights organizations promise that the fight isn’t over, and they’ll be back in court to protect Arizona women.
Photo credit: Rusty Ferguson.