News Law and Policy

Supreme Court Lets Stand Decision Blocking Restrictions on Arizona Medication Abortions

Jessica Mason Pieklo

The Roberts Court declined to take up a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to overturn a federal appeals court decision calling the case for medication abortion restrictions "non-existent."

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a decision by a federal appeals court blocking Arizona anti-abortion regulations that would severely limit patient access to medication abortion.

The Roberts Court gave no explanation for its decision, simply listing the case with dozens of others it declined to review.

The regulations, which were issued by the state’s Department of Health Services (DHS) on January 27 under the authority of a law signed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012­, restricted the use of medication abortions by requiring providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol.

Shortly after the Arizona DHS issued the regulations, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued to block the new restrictions, arguing that enacting the regulations could altogether end the availability of medication abortion in Arizona.

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A lower court initially refused the request and ruled the restrictions could go into effect. Advocates immediately filed an appeal with the Ninth Circuit, which issued a temporary emergency injunction, blocking the lower court order and preventing the regulations from being implemented pending the appeal.

In June a unanimous Ninth Circuit then issued a preliminary injunction, calling the justifications for the restrictions “non-existent” and ordered a trial on the law’s constitutionality to proceed in federal district court.

Monday’s decision by the Roberts Court leaves in place that June ruling, which means the case can now proceed to trial on the issue of whether the restrictions unduly burden a patient’s right to choose abortion.

“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 and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement following the Court’s decision.

“The Court did the right thing today, but this dangerous and misguided law should never have passed in the first place,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Politicians are not medical expertsbut 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.”

The fight over medication abortion in Arizona highlights the ever-shrinking map of abortion access nationwide. Advocates challenging the restrictions argue that should the anti-choice policies go into effect, they would threaten access statewide, but especially in northern Arizona, where Planned Parenthood Arizona is the sole abortion provider.

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.

A trial date in the matter has not yet been set.

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