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Federal judge will not block Arizona rules on use of abortion drugs

By Paul Ingram

TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday rejected a request by Planned Parenthood and a private women's health clinic to block new Arizona regulations that would limit the use of abortion-inducing drugs.

The regulations, which go into effect on Tuesday, would require any medicine used to induce an abortion to be administered strictly according to protocols issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and instructions on the label.

The FDA has approved RU-486, the so-called "abortion pill," for use within seven weeks' gestation. Doctors who have prescribed it later than that have made an off-label use which is not allowed under Arizona's law.

At issue in the case is a physician's discretion to go "off-label" and use the drug as the doctor believes would be best for a woman seeking to end her pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood and the Tucson Women's Center sued to overturn the rules and sought a temporary restraining order to stop them from going into effect while the lawsuit was being litigated.

They argued that the regulations could force women to travel to other states to get an abortion or prevent them from getting the procedure altogether.

David Brown, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said he was disappointed with a ruling he said would further cut into a woman's constitutional rights and access to safe, high-quality reproductive health care based on where they live.

"This law serves no purpose other than to prevent Arizona women from using a safe alternative to surgical abortion and force their doctors to follow an outdated, riskier, and less effective method," Brown said in a statement. "This is what happens when politicians, not doctors, practice medicine."

The rules were part of a package of items included in legislation signed into law by Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer in 2012, in what has been a continuing effort to seek ways to limit abortions in the southwestern state.

A provision at the heart of the law, banning abortions from 20 weeks gestation except in medical emergencies, was struck down last year by a federal court, but the drug provision remains intact.

Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, called Monday's ruling a "victory for anyone who cares about the well-being of women."

"When Planned Parenthood loses, women win," Herrod said.

In rejecting the request for a temporary restraining order, U.S. District Judge David Bury said that they had not raised serious questions going to the merits of the case.

In Arizona, the latest figures show that 32 percent of the 13,340 abortions performed in 2012 were non-surgical - all but a small percentage using RU-486, or mifepristone.

(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker)

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