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Appeals court orders injunction on Arizona abortion law

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WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld its decision to block an Arizona law restricting access to a popular abortion drug, a law critics said would unduly burden a woman’s right to an abortion.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law’s opponents had produced “uncontroverted evidence that the Arizona law substantially burdens a women’s access to abortion services.” For that reason, it said, the law should be enjoined while a lawsuit over it is argued.

The ruling was hailed by abortion-rights advocates, who said the law would deny women access to a safe and affordable method of abortion, forcing them to undergo surgery or take more expensive and less effective combinations of drugs. Or to be denied an abortion altogether.

“It’s unfair to women,” said Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. “You wouldn’t turn back the clock for cancer, infection or disease treatment. It’s morally unacceptable.”

Calls seeking comment from Arizona Attorney General Thomas Horne’s office were not immediately returned Tuesday. The state lawmakers who sponsored the law, and officials with Americans United for Life who joined the state’s defense of the law, could not be reached for comment.

The abortion-drug language was part of a larger abortion regulation bill passed by state lawmakers in 2012.

Tuesday’s ruling turned on the law’s restrictions on how medications used for medical abortions should be administered. Under the bill, clinics would have to prescribe the drugs according to dosages and methods outlined by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, when the drugs were first approved.

Supporters of the law said they were only trying to protect women, by requiring that clinics follow FDA rules for prescribing the drugs.

But clinic officials said medical experts and the FDA have both said that the “on-label” directions have since been replaced by different, “evidence-based” regimens. Those use the same drugs but in slightly different doses and applications, and have proven to be cheaper, more effective and safer.

In Arizona, 43 percent of abortions in the first nine weeks of pregnancy in 2012 were medically induced, according to the court ruling. Opponents of the law said limiting access to abortion drugs could force clinics in the state to close, leaving women in some parts of the state facing up to 700 miles of travel, four times, to access a safe and legal medication abortion.

Planned Parenthood and the Tucson Women’s Center sued to block the law, but a district court judge turned down their request for a preliminary injunction while the suit was argued.

The opponents appealed that ruling and won an emergency injunction in April from the appellate court, which confirmed the injunction Tuesday.

In its decision, the circuit court panel said the evidence-based method of administering abortion drugs had been shown to be the most effective method, and that the state was unable to provide evidence that the law advanced women’s health.

The case was sent back to district court for trial, which would be the next step in the case unless the state appeals Tuesday’s ruling.

Howard said he is ready to continue the fight.

“This is why I’ve been here (Planned Parenthood) for 30 years. To make sure both men and women are given the best health care,” Howard said. “They deserve acceptance and we are the only ones who will stand up for them.”