Arizona abortion rules get federal court scrutiny

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, shown in San Francisco Tuesday, July 15, 1997, is the largest appellate court in the federal system.

AP Photo/Susan Ragan

PHOENIX -- Lawyers for the state of Arizona will fight Tuesday to get the nation's strictest restrictions on the use of abortion drugs put in place, a move Planned Parenthood looks to thwart in federal court in San Francisco.

A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals will hear arguments on the legality of Arizona's rules limiting where and how women can take abortion-inducing drugs. The court blocked the rules last month, saying women likely would suffer irreparable harm if the restrictions were allowed to take effect.

The rules ban women from taking the most common abortion-inducing drug - RU-486 - after the seventh week of pregnancy. Women had been allowed to take the abortion pill through nine weeks of pregnancy. The regulations also require that the drug be administered only at the Food and Drug Administration-approved dosage and that both doses be taken at a clinic. The usual dosage is lower and now usually taken at home, decreasing the cost and chance of complications.

Women's rights groups consider the Arizona restrictions on medication abortion the strictest in the country.

Planned Parenthood Arizona, the plaintiff in the case, says the rules severely infringe on a woman's ability to have an abortion and are unconstitutional. They estimate that 800 women would have had to get surgical abortions in 2012 if the rules were in effect then.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has asked the appeals court to lift the stay, saying Planned Parenthood did not have enough evidence to show the restrictions were detrimental.

Horne argued that Planned Parenthood has not proved that the regulations could cause irreparable harm. The organization is also unable to show the rules would place an undue burden on women's right to abortion, Horne said.

The regulations were released in January by state health officials. The Arizona Legislature approved the rules in 2012, and they took effect for one day in April.