Abortion bill gives Ducey a clear choice

FDA, doctors in agreement on use of abortion drug

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, with Gov. Doug Ducey. (HOWARD FISCHER/Capitol Media Services)

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, with Gov. Doug Ducey. (HOWARD FISCHER/Capitol Media Services)

PHOENIX - Gov. Doug Ducey has to decide whether to force Arizona doctors to use a higher dosage of an abortion medication than the Food and Drug Administration now says is necessary.

Legislation on the governor's desk would require doctors using RU-486 to terminate a pregnancy to follow the label that the federal agency had in place as of the end of last year. That means only through the first seven weeks of pregnancy.

The bill was pushed by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, saying the practice of doctors in Arizona of using the drug through the ninth week of pregnancy was endangering women's health.

On Tuesday, however, the FDA notified the manufacturer of the drug that it was now acceptable to use RU-486, technically known as mifepristone, through the 10th week.

More to the point, the agency said all that's needed is a single 200 milligram tablet. But the bill sent to Ducey, based on the old standard first approved in 2000, mandates triple the dosage of RU-486, a drug that CAP president Cathi Herrod said is so dangerous that doctors should not be able to ignore the label.

Doctors who do not comply can lose their license to practice medicine.

The legislation has put Ducey into an awkward situation.

The governor has pronounced himself an abortion foe. In fact, he has signed every new abortion restriction sent to him since becoming governor last year.

Herrod said Wednesday she is consulting with others about what to seek from the governor.

"One option is to sign the bill and then have a companion measure that still comes through and addresses the change in the protocol,' she said. But Herrod made it clear that, at least from her perspective, an outright veto would not be appropriate.

That's not the assessment of Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona.

"The bill in question specifically and in perpetuity requires health care providers like Planned Parenthood and other OB-GYNs in the community to use a 16-year-old protocol,' he said. "It should be a slam-dunk.'

Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of the legislation on Ducey's desk, said she's not sure exactly what the governor should do.

"However, I do find it ironic that Planned Parenthood and other abortion industry representatives are saying that they now are willing to follow FDA protocol when for 16 years they've admitted that they haven't,' she said.

Howard responded that doctors were doing what the FDA always has allowed: off-label use of any medication in accordance with what they believe to be the best for their patients.

"The FDA has now caught up with us,' he said.

He said that Ducey should not only veto the bill in front of him but refuse to sign any measure that cements any standard into law, even the new one. Howard said these decisions are best left to doctors, unimpeded by what he said have been political concerns that resulted in the legislation in the first place.

"This has been a fight between health care providers and a certain group of politicians,' Howard said.