Scottsdale law firm leads fight to ban abortion pill

(Special to the Progress)

A Scottsdale law firm founded to defend what it says are Christian values in court is trying to block the most used method of abortion.

Attorneys for the Alliance Defending Freedom contend the "abortion pill'' – technically, two separate medications used together – is medically unsafe and charge that the Food and Drug Administration ignored that evidence when approving use, instead choosing "politics over science.''

There was no response from the federal agency to the lawsuit. But the agency, in its postings, said it has determined that mifepristone, the main drug involved, "is safe and effective when used to terminate a pregnancy'' in accordance with labeling instructions.

Brittany Fonteno, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said if the lawsuit is successful it will remove an important option for women here.

The state Court of Appeals is weighing whether to allow Arizona to once again enforce its territorial-era law that bans virtually all abortions.

If that occurs, the only option for women in Arizona would be to find a way to get a doctor from another state to prescribe the drugs so they could manage their own abortions. That would cease to be an option if the lawsuit is successful.

The lawsuit, filed in Texas, is in the name of several medical groups that are opposed to abortion, including the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Christian Medical and Dental Association.

Erik Baptist, the lead attorney, said that President Bill Clinton, on his second full day in office in 1992, directed his cabinet to legalize chemical abortion drugs in the United States. He said Clinton then pressured a French company to donate for free the U.S. patent rights for mifepristone to the Population Council, an organization that does biomedical research and has developed birth control methods.

It then got the approval of the FDA for use on Sept. 28, 2000, just over a month before the closely contested presidential election.

"The only way the FDA could have approved chemical abortion drugs was to use its accelerated drug approval authority, necessitating the FDA to call pregnancy an 'illness' and argue that these dangerous drugs provide a 'meaningful therapeutic benefit' over existing treatments,'' Baptist wrote.

"But pregnancy is not an illness, nor do chemical abortion drugs provide a therapeutic benefit over surgical abortion,'' he said, calling the FDA's assertions "transparently false.''

Baptist said the situation only has gotten worse, with the FDA in 2016 expanding the permitted use of the drugs from the first seven weeks of pregnancy to 10 weeks, reducing the number of required office visits from three to one, and expanded who could prescribe the drugs beyond medical doctors.

And just last year, he said, the FDA said it would stop enforcing its requirement that abortionists provide in-person dispensing of mifepristone and instead would temporarily allow mail-order chemical abortions during the COVID-19 public health emergency. That was later made permanent.

"This decision not only harms women and girls who voluntarily undergo chemical abortions, but it also further helps sex traffickers and sexual abusers to force their victims into getting abortions while preventing the authorities from identifying these victims,'' Baptist said.

Several states, including Arizona. have since approved laws that prohibit obtaining these drugs by mail regardless of the FDA policy.

But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy which helped craft the state legislation, acknowledged to Capitol Media Services that blocking the drugs from being sent into Arizona from a pharmacy in another state or even another country could be logistically difficult.

This lawsuit is about more than mifepristone, also known as RU-486, which is designed to terminate the pregnancy.

Medical studies have said that drug does not always work by itself.

So the FDA added a second drug to the regimen–- misoprostal – to induce contractions to expel the fetus from the womb. Baptist wants the judge to order the FDA to withdraw it approval for that drug, too.

Removal of the drugs would affect more than half the abortions performed in Arizona.

"I think it would be terribly devastating if access to abortion were further eliminated by the abortion pill becoming unavailable,'' Fonteno said.

"We know that at Planned Parenthood Arizona, and actually across the country, most patients prefer the abortion pill as their method of termination,'' she said. "This is just another attempt to try to block access to essential health care.''

Alliance Defending Freedom defines itself as "the world's largest legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, the sanctity of life, parental rights, and God's design for marriage and family.''

Founded in 1994, it has been involved in a number of Arizona cases, including getting the state Supreme Court to rule that a Phoenix anti-discrimination ordinance did not preclude two women from refusing to provide custom wedding invitations to a gay couple.

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