A judge ruled on Friday that Arizona can implement a near-total ban on abortions that had been banned for almost 50 years. This means clinics across the state will have to stop delivering the procedures to avoid criminal charges against doctors and other medical personnel.
The judge lifted the injunction on enforcing the statute, which had been in place since before Arizona became a state. This prohibition is strictly enforced, and the only exception is when a woman’s life is in immediate danger.
Due to the verdict, all abortion facilities in the state will be forced to close, forcing residents who need abortions to travel out of state. There is no waiting period for the verdict to take effect, but appeals are possible.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reversed its landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June, which had guaranteed women the right to an abortion under the Constitution, abortion providers have been on a roller coaster of emotions. Service providers suspended operations, later resumed them, and are now forced to arrest them again.
Planned Parenthood had argued against enforcement and its president said the verdict “put Arizonans back to living under an antiquated, 150-year-old law.”
Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement that the decision was “out of line with the desire of Arizonans” and would “cruelly force pregnant people to leave their communities to receive an abortion.”
Mark Brnovich, the Republican attorney general, applauded the decision to lift the injunction and allow enforcement of the ban.
For “upholding the will of the legislature” and “offering clarity and uniformity on this vital matter,” Brnovich praised the court in a statement. “I have and will continue to protect the most vulnerable in Arizona.”
In this election season, when abortion rights have been seized upon by Democrats, the verdict comes as a boon to their cause. When challenged by Republican Blake Masters, Sen. Mark Kelly claimed this bill “would have a disastrous impact on the freedom Arizona women have had for decades” to choose abortion. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat running for governor, said that it resulted from a decades-long onslaught on reproductive freedom by Republicans and that the only hope for change was in November’s elections.
Both Masters and Hobbs’ Republican challenger, Kari Lake, support legislation to restrict access to abortion. There was no quick response from their campaigns. After hearing both sides of Brnovich’s request to have the injunction lifted, Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson issued her decision more than a month later.
The ban on abortions in almost all cases was passed long before Arizona became a state in 1912. After the injunction was issued in response to the Roe judgment, prosecutions ceased. However, the legislature has renewed the statute multiple times, most recently in 1977.
At a hearing on August 19, Assistant Attorney General Beau Roysden argued before Johnson that the injunction blocking the old statute should be lifted now that Roe had been overturned. The penalties for those found guilty of performing an abortion through surgery or supplying medications for a medication abortion range from two to five years in prison under the terms of that legislation.
A counsel for Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate argued that current abortion regulations would be rendered useless if the pre-statehood restriction were allowed to be enforced. She argued that the judge should rule that only unlicensed practitioners should be prohibited from performing abortions while allowing licensed doctors to continue.
The judge agreed with Brnovich, ruling that the injunction should be withdrawn entirely because it had only been filed in 1973 because of the Roe decision.
Johnson said, “The Court considers an attempt to harmonize fifty years of legislative activity procedurally incorrect in the context of the motion and record before it.” It is not for this Court to decide any legal questions raised by the parties about the constitutionality of Arizona’s abortion laws.
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On June 24, the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade and said that individual states have the right to set their abortion laws. One doctor operating an abortion clinic expressed disappointment with the ruling but was not surprised.
According to Dr. DeShawn Taylor, “that kind of aligns with what I’ve been saying for a long — it is the purpose of the individuals who rule this state that abortion be prohibited here.” While it’s natural to keep some glimmer of optimism in the back of your mind, know that you’ve been mentally preparing for a total ban the whole time.
Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, is strongly opposed to abortion yet has signed every anti-abortion bill across his desk over the past eight years. Planned Parenthood may submit a new challenge, Judge Johnson ruled. All seven of Arizona’s Supreme Court justices were nominated by Republicans, and the state’s strict abortion restrictions make victory seem unlikely.
OK, people of Arizona. It’s up to you now. The midterms are less than 50 days away.
The deadline to register to vote is October 11. https://t.co/9qGTc4HE0q
— Brooklyn Cybele (@brooklyncybele) September 24, 2022
Following the rejection of Roe v. Wade, state legislators and courts have taken varying approaches to abortion legality. Bans on abortion at any stage of pregnancy were in place in 12 states with Republican governors before Friday’s verdict.
Clinics in Wisconsin have ceased performing abortions due to ongoing litigation concerning the constitutionality of an 1849 ban. When fetal heart activity is detected, abortion is illegal in Georgia. Bans in Florida and Utah take effect at 15 and 18 weeks of pregnancy, respectively.
Arizona’s new legislation prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy goes into effect the day after the ruling was issued. The measure, which Ducey signed into effect in March, was enacted with the expectation that the Supreme Court would loosen restrictions on abortion. In its place, it reversed Roe.
Though he claims the new legislation he signed supersedes the pre-statehood law, Ducey did not send lawyers to debate this point with Johnson. The first version of the statute was created in 1864 as part of a larger body of legislation known as the “Howell Code,” passed by the 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature.
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