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Arizona Anti-Choice Lobby ‘Not OK’ With FDA Update to Medication Abortion

Nicole Knight

A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said the Center for Arizona Policy "has for years endangered women's health and safety by colluding with extremist Republicans to erect as many barriers as possible between women and the health care they are constitutionally entitled to."

Arizona’s chief anti-choice lobby and Republican lawmakers are regrouping from a recent blow to their campaign to legislate away medication abortion, while continuing to insist that the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) updated labeling for abortion-inducing medication is misguided.

The FDA’s recent update to medication abortion labeling kneecapped a restrictive GOP-backed medication abortion law, which the state’s Republican governor signed last month.

The law would force Arizona doctors to follow 16-year-old FDA standards—guidelines that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and now the FDA, advise against.

six-person house and senate conference committee last week conceded defeat—at least temporarily—by tacking onto an existing bill, SB 1112, language to repeal the GOP’s medication abortion restriction, known as SB 1324. Meanwhile, officials from the state’s influential anti-choice group, the Center for Arizona Policy, say they’re figuring out what they, along with state Republicans, will do next to make medication abortion inaccessible.

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“We’re not saying we’re OK with what the FDA did,” Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said Wednesday.

Herrod had championed SB 1324 because it limited medication abortion, a two-pill regime, to the first seven weeks of pregnancy. The updated FDA labeling makes the regimen available up to ten weeks, at a lower dosage, and with fewer doctor visits.

Herrod told Arizona Central that she remains concerned by the updated FDA guidelines saying the medication can be safely administered longer into a pregnancy than she thinks is best. “We want to take the interim to assess what’s best for women’s health and safety,” Herrod said.

Medication abortion has been proven safe, with serious complications occurring in fewer than 0.4 percent of patients. This isn’t the first time Herrod’s organization and the Arizona GOP tried to impose restrictions on medication abortion.

Lawmakers in 2012 enacted a nearly identical medication abortion restriction, which a state court permanently blocked.

The Center for Arizona Policy “provides no medical or social services whatsoever, and has for years endangered women’s health and safety by colluding with extremist Republicans to erect as many barriers as possible between women and the health care they are constitutionally entitled to,” Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs with Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in an email to Rewire.

Liggett continued, “The best thing that Cathi Herrod could do for women’s health and safety would be to butt out.”

Representing an unexpected gain for abortion rights advocates, the new language in SB 1112 rescinds a statute that forced doctors to tell pregnant people that medication abortion may be reversible, a measure a federal court had blocked, as the Arizona Daily Sun reported.

The “evidence” for the statute was a single case study of six patients by an OB-GYN who opposes abortion rights. Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, called the provisions “a victory for women’s health.”

The bill reportedly includes new language to require doctors to tell a patient who has taken the first of two pregnancy-ending pills that a single pill does not always end a pregnancy. The bill still needs a floor vote in the house and senate before heading to the governor.

Arizona isn’t the only state to attempt to legislate away medication abortion by making doctors follow outdated FDA guidelines. The FDA’s action last month undercut GOP-supported laws in Texas, Oklahoma, Ohio, and North Dakota that require physicians to follow the agency’s 2000 label recommendation for mifepristone. The original FDA label instructed providers to administer both doses in the office and have a follow-up visit.

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