Arizona struggles to find a credible court witness to defend “abortion reversal” law

Remember that law Arizona passed this year requiring abortion providers to inform lie to their patients that it’s possible to “reverse” a medication abortion? Now, the state’s attempt to defend the law against a court challenge is floundering because it’s having trouble finding anyone to defend the law who qualifies as an expert witness

Attorneys for the State of Arizona asked the court to postpone the trial, in part because its primary expert to defend the law lacked the “publication and research background and experience” to be qualified as an expert witness.

Federal courts are required to determine whether an expert is qualified to testify, including whether the expert’s methodology is sufficiently reliable to support the proposed opinions. The court must further decide whether the expert’s proposed testimony will, through the application of scientific, technical, or specialized expertise, assist the court in understanding the evidence or determining a fact at issue.

Dr. Mary Davenport of El Sobrante, California, is the State of Arizona’s principal witness in support of the measure. A member of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists, Davenport bases her claims that a medically induced abortion can be reversed on a single anecdotal study of six patients, four of whom Davenport claims were able to carry pregnancies to term, despite ingesting mifepristone, by taking a dose of progesterone shortly after ingesting mifepristone.

No other scientific data exists to support Davenport’s claim.

While a study of six patients apparently doesn’t meet the court’s standard of evidence based on “reliable methods” that have “widespread acceptance,” it was plenty for the Arizona state lawmakers who passed the law.

As Robin Marty wrote at the time, this law puts the anti-choice movement’s hypocrisy on full display. Most anti-choice restrictions — telemedicine bans, admitting privilege requirements, etc. — are justified under the very flimsy guise of protecting patient safety. “Meanwhile, these same people are suggesting that patients Google a website, call a hotline, be hooked up with a doctor they have never seen and rush straight to a place to be injected with massive amounts of hormones without any FDA approval of that procedure, long-term studies of the effects, or even much of a testing pool of subjects to draw data from.”

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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