(PRESS RELEASE) The United States Supreme Court today declined to review an Arizona law that would severely limit women’s access to medication abortion, an extremely safe method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest stages. The measure will remain preliminarily blocked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit while the case proceeds in federal district court.
“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,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy will continue to get safe, legal care based on the expertise of their doctors, not politicians who presume to know better.”
“The Court did the right thing today, but this dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place. Politicians across the country should take note — these harmful and unconstitutional restrictions won’t be tolerated by the courts or the public,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “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. We are pleased that the courts are recognizing that these unconstitutional laws hurt women and block access to safe medical care.”
Women in the United States have been safely and legally using medication abortion for over a decade, with approximately one in four women who make the decision to end a pregnancy choosing this method if it’s an option—in Arizona, the number is closer to half. Data, including from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shows that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record, with women experiencing complications less than 1 percent of the time. Further, medical studies have shown that medication abortion is just as safe as surgical abortion.
Arizona’s regulation — which was issued by the Department of Health Services in January 2014 under the authority of a law signed by Governor Jan Brewer in April 2012 — either bans medication abortion entirely or the practical impact would make the method unavailable because it mandates an outdated and inferior protocol that has been called “bad medicine,” by experts like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
The law would deprive many women of access to abortion altogether, particularly in northern Arizona where Planned Parenthood Arizona is the sole provider of safe and legal abortion and would not be able to continue to offer that service under the burdensome requirements of this law. Women in this part of the state would be left having to travel an average of 321 miles roundtrip — twice — to get an abortion in Arizona.
ACOG and the American Medical Association submitted a joint amicus curiae brief in April 2014 in support of the legal challenge, explaining that the Arizona law “jeopardizes women’s health by requiring that physicians deny women the benefit of the most current, well-researched, safe, evidence-based, and proven protocols for the provision of medical abortion and, instead, prescribe a regimen that is outdated and less safe.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, along with Planned Parenthood Federation of America, filed the lawsuit in Arizona federal district court in March 2014 on behalf of Planned Parenthood Arizona and the Tucson Women’s Center challenging Arizona’s restrictions on medication abortion. On March 31, a federal trial court failed to protect Arizona women’s constitutional rights to non-surgical abortion and women’s health care providers and advocates immediately asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to reverse that decision, which the court granted on an emergency basis a few days later. In June 2014, the Ninth Circuit preliminarily blocked the law, stating “the Arizona law imposes an undue—and therefore unconstitutional—burden on women’s access to abortion.” In evaluating the state’s attempts to justify the restrictions, the decision also stated that “the ‘medical grounds thus far presented’ are not merely ‘feeble.’ They are non-existent.”
Harmful and unconstitutional restrictions like these further underscore the need for the federal Women’s Health Protection Act (S. 1696/H.R. 3471) — a bill that would prohibit states like Arizona from imposing unconstitutional restrictions on reproductive health care providers that apply to no similar medical care, interfere with women’s personal decision making, and block access to safe and legal abortion services.