With New Abortion Bill, Arizona Writes Medical Malpractice into Law

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With New Abortion Bill, Arizona Writes Medical Malpractice into Law

'This is unacceptable and not how safe medical care of any kind is provided,' says women's health advocate

Anti-choice Governor Doug Doucey signed the bill into law on Monday. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Arizona's governor signed an extreme abortion restriction bill on Monday, which women's health advocates say effectively writes medical malpractice into law.

The new law, which passed the state's Republican-controlled legislature last week, requires that doctors tell women that drug-induced abortions can be reversed. Experts said the provision—the first of its kind to pass in the U.S.—was medically unfounded.

"This law will force abortion providers to give patients information about medical abortion care that is unsubstantiated and not supported by evidence—even abortion opponents admit there is no medical proof to support this information," said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. "This is unacceptable and not how safe medical care of any kind is provided."

The LA Times reported that State Sen. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who voted against the legislation, said the provision "requires medical professionals to commit medical malpractice."

"This is junk science. It is quack medicine," she said Wednesday. “There is absolutely no evidence anywhere in any peer-reviewed journal that supports this as a valid medical procedure."

According to MSNBC's Irin Carmon, who said the bill was part of "the next wave of abortion restrictions":

An increasingly popular method of terminating a pregnancy, known as medication abortion, involves a doctor administering two pills that ultimately induce miscarriage. The purported "reversal" happens in the event that after taking the first pill, the woman changes her mind. That's when the doctor injects her with the hormone progesterone, which allegedly stops the abortion in its tracks. Anti-abortion physicians are already experimenting with such "reversals" across the country, and claiming success with subsequent live births.

But not only has there been no formal medical study or FDA approval of the protocol or its potential side effects, there's no reason to think the progesterone is even doing anything to stop the abortion. Abortion provider Dr. Cheryl Chastine told Talking Points Memo, "The medical literature is quite clear that mifepristone on its own"—the first pill in a medication abortion—"is only about 50% effective at ending a pregnancy. That means that even if these doctors were to offer a large dose of purple Skittles, they'd appear to have 'worked' to 'save' the pregnancy about half the time."

Reproductive rights advocates charge that the law is part of coordinated attack on abortion rights across the country. Indeed, Arizona's "abortion reversal" language is cribbed from Americans United for Life's 2015 model legislation guide (pdf).

"It’s just a piece of the larger strategy—using any means possible to dissuade a woman from a decision that she’s already made," Hayley Smith, associate advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, told ThinkProgress last week.

Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, echoed that charge.

"Efforts to encourage women to ‘reverse’ mifepristone with progesterone are rooted solely in the desire by anti-choice extremists to control the reproductive choices of women and are not based in any evidence-based medicine or research," Allen told Common Dreams in an email. 

She continued:

It is extraordinarily hypocritical for Americans United for Life to push for these laws, which force doctors to provide biased and medically unproven information to women seeking safe and legal abortion services. To suggest that women should submit to a medical procedure that has not been rigorously studied or tested is nothing short of unethical. This is the very same group has pushed for laws banning evidence-based use of medication abortion based on years of research and doctors’ practical experience. Their intentions could not be more clear: these laws are not about women’s health and safety, but about restricting a woman’s ability to obtain abortion care.

Arizona's SB 1318 also bars insurance companies from providing abortion services to women who purchase medical coverage through the federal health-care exchange, except in cases of rape, incest, or where the woman's life is endangered.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the legislation "protects Arizona taxpayers" by ensuring public funds are "not used to subsidize abortions."

Arizona already has severe abortion restrictions in place. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion policies around the country, a woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided. Counseling must be provided in person and must take place before the waiting period begins, thereby necessitating two separate trips to the facility.

On top of that, a woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and the provider must offer her the option to view the image. The ultrasound must be provided at least 24 hours before the abortion.

In addition, the use of telemedicine for the performance of medication abortion is prohibited. Medication abortion must be provided using the FDA protocol, thereby preventing the use of a more common, simpler evidence-based regimen.

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