A coalition of healthcare providers and reproductive rights groups are challenging in federal court a provision of a new Arizona law, which requires doctors to tell women undergoing a medication-induced abortion that the procedure is reversible, a claim regarded by medical experts as false and misleading.
The new law is the latest in a wave of regulations adopted by Arizona lawmakers to restrict women’s access to the procedure, though many attempts have been blocked in court, including one that limited the use of abortion-inducing medications.
The lawsuit, brought by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights, argues that forcing doctors to provide this information against their best medical judgement, with “extreme consequences” for non-compliance, is a violation of their first amendment rights and of patient’s fourteenth amendment rights.
“This reckless law forces doctors to lie to their patients, and it puts women’s health at risk,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “This law should never have passed, and we’re asking the court to stop it from going into effect.”
The law, SB 1318, was passed in April with the primary purpose of barring state residents from purchasing any health insurance plan through the federal marketplace that includes abortion coverage. But it was amended to include a provision specifying that doctors must tell a woman seeking an abortion both on the phone and in person that it “may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion if the woman changes her mind but that time is of the essence,” and that “information on and assistance with reversing the effects of a medication abortion is available on the Department of Health Services website.”
“There is no science to support this,” Arizona-based gynecologist Ilana Addis told The Atlantic. “These women would be unknowing and unwilling guinea pigs.”
Scottsdale physician Julie Kwatra, the legislative chairwoman for the Arizona section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the law violates medical ethics and is harmful to the doctor-patient relationship. “Medicine should be practiced by the experts … not by lawmakers,” she said. “This is junk science. There is no credible evidence that abortion reversal is possible. And to base a standard of care recommendation on that is completely anti-ethical.”
Medical abortions, also known as non-surgical abortions, typically consist of taking two prescribed medications — mifepristone and misoprostol — within days of one another, according to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center.
The claim that medical abortions are “reversible” largely traces back to George Delgado, an anti-abortion gynecologist in San Diego. Delgado backs an experimental procedure in which a woman who doesn’t take the dose of misoprostol can be injected with progesterone (considered an “off label” use by the FDA) to “reverse” the abortion.
But the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that — regardless of a progesterone injection — pregnancies continue in 30-50 percent of women if they only take the first drug but not the second phase, National Journal reports. In response to to the Arizona legislation, ACOG said in a fact sheet: “Claims of medication abortion reversal are not supported by the body of scientific evidence.”
As such, the law violates patients’ Fourteenth Amendment rights because they are getting “false, misleading and/or irrelevant information,” the lawsuit says. In forcing doctors to “unwillingly and against their best medical judgment” give patients “a state-mandated message that is neither medically nor scientifically supported,” plaintiffs argue the law in question also violates doctors’ First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, names Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ in the complaint.