The abortion rules were released in January by the Arizona Department of Health Services. They 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 rules also require that the drug be administered only at the FDA-approved dosage and that both doses be taken at a clinic. The usual dose is lower and now usually taken at home, decreasing the cost and chance of complications.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals blocked the rules for now on Wednesday, saying the court needs more time to consider a full briefing on the request for the emergency stay. The panel of judges gave both sides until Friday to file briefs in the case.
"We are pleased with the Ninth Circuit's swift, yet prudent, action," said Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. "We are confident that the court will ultimately rule to protect the health and safety of Arizona women."
The Arizona rules require RU-486 to be used under the Food and Drug Administration drug label approved in 2000, which has a much higher dosage. That dosage is no longer routinely followed because doctors have found much lower dosages are just as effective when combined with a second drug.
Planned Parenthood Arizona estimates that 800 women would have had to get surgical abortions in 2012 if the rules were in effect then. An attorney for the organization also told the judge last week that the new rules could force its Flagstaff abortion clinic to suspend operations. But a spokeswoman has since said that the group is evaluating how it will proceed and operations at the Flagstaff clinic will continue.
The organization also says the rules, approved by the Arizona State Legislature in 2012, severely infringe on a woman's ability to have an abortion.
In denying the organization the temporary block on Monday, U.S. District Judge David C. Bury acknowledged that the new rules will make it more difficult for some women in Arizona, especially those in the northern part of the state, to get abortions because they have to travel farther and make more trips to clinics. But he said they aren't obstacles big enough to show that the rules should be blocked.
The group behind the legislation, the Center for Arizona Policy, says the regulations only protect women, and that other courts of appeals have upheld similar rules.
"The truth is Arizona women deserve better. The State Legislature passed this law to protect the health and safety of women and ensure that this dangerous medication is distributed only as the FDA approved," Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod said.