Ninth Circuit Puts Trial Over Arizona Medication Abortion Restrictions on Hold


On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit granted a request by attorneys for the State of Arizona to stay a trial on regulations that severely limit medication abortions in the state.

The regulations, which were issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services at the end of January, under the authority of a law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in April 2012, restrict the use of medication abortions by requiring providers to follow outdated Food and Drug Administration (FDA) protocol. Shortly after the regulations were issued, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sued to block them, arguing that they threatened to end entirely the availability of medication abortion in the state. A lower court initially refused to block the regulations. In June, a unanimous panel of judges for the Ninth Circuit ruled the justifications for the limitations were “non-existent,” ordered the law blocked, and returned the case to the lower court for a trial on the constitutionality of the restrictions.

The latest order from the Ninth Circuit puts that trial—and the law—on hold for 90 days while attorneys for the state ask the Supreme Court to review the Ninth Circuit’s order.

According to attorneys for Arizona, the split in the federal circuit is over the extent to which states may regulate medication abortions. “As indicated in the opinion the circuits have not merely split on the facial validity of medication abortion regulations,” attorneys for the state wrote. “They have split on the more fundamental question of how a reviewing court determines whether any rational abortion regulation creates, on its face, a substantial obstacle under Casey.”

The Ninth Circuit decision differs from federal appeal court rulings on similar laws in both the fifth and sixth circuits; it represents a split attorneys for Arizona characterized as “significant” and reason enough for the Supreme Court to take up their request. “Because of this, there is a reasonable probability that four members of the Supreme Court would consider the underlying issue sufficiently meritorious for the grant of certiorari and there is a significant possibility that the Supreme Court will reverse the decision,” continued the state.

Monday’s order from the Ninth Circuit stated that, assuming attorneys for Arizona file their request for review with the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit’s stay would remain in effect pending any final disposition of the case by the high court. So far the Supreme Court has declined to get involved in state battles over medication abortion restrictions, most recently rejecting a challenge to an Oklahoma law that effectively banned medication abortions entirely.

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