Legislature moves to repeal new law targeting abortion

The Arizona Legislature is moving to repeal a law just signed by Gov. Doug Ducey and another one he signed last year that target abortions and appear to be indefensible in court.

The action by a joint committee of the Senate and House would repeal a bill Ducey signed last month that locks in outdated federal guidelines covering the most commonly used abortion drug.

The amendment to Senate Bill 1112 also would repeal a 2015 law requiring abortion providers to tell patients the effects of an abortion drug could be reversed.

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Peoria, said Thursday the changes were designed to stop legal challenges to both measures on the advice of state Attorney General Mark Brnovich. The 2015 law is on hold as Planned Parenthood Arizona pursues a legal challenge and the bill signed last month was expected to renew a challenge in federal court.

The amendment to an unrelated bill came during a conference committee meeting Wednesday. The legislation now requires final votes in both chambers.

"Our primary goal has always been to maintain the health and safety of women," Yee said.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, sponsored the 2015 bill that required doctors to tell patients that a medication abortion might be reversible. She said the new language ensures women get important information if they decide not to go through with a medication abortion, which involves two drugs taken days apart.

Rep. Randy Friese, a Tucson Democrat who sat on the conference committee, said he offered the exact same language to eliminate the 2015 law when the House debated this year's FDA labeling law. Friese, a physician, said he talked to a doctor who practices reproductive health after seeing the amendment and "she felt that the new language was pretty much what doctors would do anyway."

"If a patient called a clinic and said I just took one pill and I don't think I want to take another one, you advise them," Friese said. "`OK, don't take the pill, you may or not lose your pregnancy, please call your doctor.' That's very reasonable."

The bill Ducey signed last month boldly defied new FDA rules implemented this week on abortion drugs. It bars doctors from prescribing the drug commonly known as RU-486 after seven weeks of pregnancy and requires it to be taken only at Food and Drug Administration-approved doses in effect until late March.

It also requires the two doses of the drug to be taken at a clinic, while providers now send the patient home with the second pill to be taken days after the first.

Much lower doses have been commonly used for years, and at up to nine weeks of pregnancy. The FDA adopted those medical protocols just as the governor was preparing to sign the law, updating the drug's label, and boosting the time it can be taken to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

In a signing statement, the Republican governor said the Legislature acted in good faith in approving the legislation to deal with the lawsuit brought by abortion providers over a 2012 version of the law.

"In such a case, I will always stand with those advocating life," Ducey wrote. "I recognize that given the unexpected actions of the FDA, some changes may need to be made in a later bill, and I stand ready to consider those changes when they reach my desk."

Josh Kredit, general counsel for the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy, said repealing the two laws was the only "reasonable, responsible option."

He said at this point in the waning legislative session it made sense to erase the laws from the books and come back next year after they assess what legal steps are possible for opponents of abortion.