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Arizona’s Abortion Drug Limits Stayed by the 9th

TUCSON (CN) - Arizona's ban against drug-induced abortions after seven weeks faced an emergency stay from the 9th Circuit on Wednesday after a federal judge refused to grant Planned Parenthood an injunction.

U.S. District Judge David Bury in Phoenix had refused to enjoin the law Monday, even though he found that the new limits will likely increase the cost of such abortions and may limit access for women in sparsely populated northern regions.

The law stands because the state had shown a rational basis for it, according to the ruling.

With the ban set to take effect Tuesday, Planned Parenthood asked the 9th Circuit for an emergency stay. The federal appeals court came through with that order Wednesday and directed the challengers to file an oversized brief.

An opposition brief from Arizona is due Friday at noon, and the optional reply to that is due Monday at 9 a.m.

Passed in 2012 by the Arizona Legislature, HR 2036 bans the off-label use of the drug mifepristone, which had allowed providers to terminate pregnancies after nine weeks instead of the seven weeks approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. The law also requires that a second dose of the drug misoprostal must be taken at a clinic instead of the usual practice of patients taking it at home.

Planned Parenthood of Arizona and others argued that off-label use of mifepristone is common and has for years been recognized by experts as "preferable to the regimen that appears on the mifepristone label."

Many women, the plaintiffs argued, do not discover a pregnancy until about 49 days in, at the end of the seventh week.

Bury found no suggestion in this evidence, however, the state's regulation lacks a rational basis.

"The state need not legislate the best means by which to achieve a goal," he wrote. "There is no least restrictive means component to rational basis review; rational speculation will suffice."

Since a safe alternative method of abortion is also available, "plaintiffs have a difficult evidentiary burden to establish HR 2036 is a substantial obstacle to a woman's right to obtain a first trimester abortion in Arizona," the ruling states.

The law originally also banned abortions at or before 20 weeks, but the 9th Circuit struck down that provision last May. A healthy fetus generally becomes viable around 23 to 24 weeks.

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