Federal Court Blocks Arizona Anti-Abortion Law
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Arizona’s controversial anti-abortion law didn’t take effect Thursday (August 2) after all.
A federal appeals court on Wednesday blocked the state from enforcing the law, which prohibits most abortions from taking place after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Two days after a federal judge cleared the way for the new restrictions to take effect as scheduled, a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel issued an emergency order halting its implementation until the court could hear the case in the fall.
Nancy Northrup, president of the Center for Reproductive rights, which joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in filing the appeal, called the injunction a “vital reaffirmation” of abortion’s constitutional protections.
The order provides temporary relief for abortion rights advocates, who were dismayed on Monday when U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled that law, passed by Arizona’s staunchly conservative legislature, “does not impose a substantial obstacle” to abortions at large. He wrote that the state, arguing that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of development, had showed “legitimate interest” in limiting late abortions.
Arizona’s law makes performing a 20-week abortion a misdemeanor. Physicians who violate it risk losing their licenses.
Opponents cast the provisions as dangerous, calling the law’s exceptions for women suffering medical emergencies narrow. The law allows late abortions only to avoid death or a "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function," during a pregnancy.
“The ban would have forced a physician caring for a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to wait until her condition poses an immediate threat of death or major medical damage before offering her the care she needs,” the ACLU said Wednesday in a statement.
Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican who championed the restrictions, did not issue a statement about the injunction on Wednesday.
As she signed the bill into law in April, Brewer called its provisions “consistent with my strong track record of supporting common sense measures to protect the health of women and safeguard our most vulnerable population — the unborn.”
Arizona’s law came in a near-record year for new abortion restrictions. Thirteen states this session passed bills restricting abortions, amounting to some 40 new limits on the procedure. Along with Arizona, nine states have passed bans on 20-week abortions. That includes Georgia and Louisiana, which approved bans this year.
The 20-week law is just one of two Arizona anti-abortion laws that have been challenged in court. In July, Planned Parenthood — the women’s health provider, which also provides abortions — filed suit in U.S. District Court over a law signed in May that eliminates state funding of the organization.