Arizona can enforce near-total abortion ban, judge rules
Arizona can enforce a near-total ban on abortions that has been blocked for nearly 50 years, a judge ruled Friday, meaning clinics statewide will have to stop providing the procedures to avoid the filing of criminal charges against doctors and other medical workers.
The judge lifted an injunction that had been blocking enforcement of the law for decades. This law prohibits almost all abortions and has been in effect since before Arizona became a state. Only exemptions are granted if the woman’s lives are in danger.
People seeking abortions will need to travel to another state in order to obtain one. The ruling will likely be appealed.
The decision of Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie John came more than a year after she heard arguments regarding Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift his injunction. It had been in place since shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in the Roe v. Wade case, which held women had a constitutional right to abortion.
The near-total abortion ban was enacted decades before Arizona was granted statehood in 1912.
Prosecutions were stopped after the Roe decision was overturned. Even so, the Legislature reenacted the law several times, most recently in 1977.
Assistant Attorney General Beau Roysden told Johnson at an Aug. 19 hearing that since Roe has been overturned, the sole reason for the injunction blocking the old law is gone and she should allow it to be enforced. Anyone who performs a surgical abortion, or provides drugs for a medical abortion can be sentenced to two to five years imprisonment.
An attorney representing Planned Parenthood’s Arizona affiliate argued that allowing the ban on pre-statehood to be enforced would make a number of other laws regulating abortion irrelevant. Instead, she asked the judge to allow licensed doctors to perform abortions and make the old ban apply only to unlicensed practitioners.
The judge sided with Brnovich, saying that because the injunction was filed in 1973 only because of the Roe decision, it must be lifted it in its entirety.
“The Court finds a attempt to reconcile fifty-years of legislative activity procedurally inappropriate in the context of this motion and record before him,” Johnson wrote. Johnson wrote that there are legal issues the parties may want to resolve about Arizona’s abortion statutes. However, these questions are not for this Court. “
The Supreme Court overturned Roe on June 24 and said states can regulate abortion as they wish.
” We applaud the court’s upholding of the will and providing clarity on this important issue,” Brnovich stated in a statement. “I have and will continue protecting the most vulnerable Arizonans. “
A doctor who runs a clinic that offers abortions said she was shocked but not surprised by this decision.
“It kinda goes with what I’ve said for a while now — It is the intent of these people that abortion be illegal in this state,” Dr. DeShawn Twain Taylor stated. “Of course, we want to keep hope in our minds, but in my head I have been preparing for the total ban. “
Abortion providers are on a rollercoaster ride since Roe was overturned. They have shut down operations, reopened them, and now they have to close again.
Johnson was the judge who said Planned Parenthood could file a new challenge. The chances of success seem slim given Arizona’s strict abortion laws and the seven Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices.
What’s allowed in each state has shifted as legislatures and courts have acted. Before Friday’s ruling, bans on abortion at any point in pregnancy are in place in 12 Republican-led states,
In another state, Wisconsin, clinics have stopped providing abortions amid litigation over whether an 1849 ban is in effect. Georgia bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity and be detected and Florida and Utah have bans that kick in after 15 and 18 weeks gestation, respectively.
The ruling came a day before a new Arizona law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy takes effect. The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey in March was enacted in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court would pare back limits on abortion regulations. It was a mirror of a Mississippi law at the time, which cut nine weeks off the previous threshold.
Ducey argued that the new law that he signed predates the pre-statehood law. However, he didn’t send his lawyers to argue that before Johnson.
The old law was first enacted as part of the set of laws known as the “Howell Code” adopted by 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1864.
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.