Federal Judge Upholds Arizona Law Criminalizing All Abortions After 20 Weeks

A federal judge today upheld Arizona’s unconstitutional pre-viability ban on abortion, allowing the law to go into effect later this week.

The law, originally passed in April and signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, bans all abortion procedures at 20 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period (LMP) without any exceptions for a pregnant woman’s life or health unless she is experiencing a dire and possibly life-threatening emergency.

On July 12th, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging the ban in the U.S. District Court of Arizona on behalf of three physicians who perform abortions and serve women with high-risk pregnancies. In the case, Paul A. Isaacson, M.D. v. Tom Horne, Attorney General of Arizona, the plaintiffs argued that the Arizona law violates the U.S. Constitution by banning pre-viability abortions.

However, U.S. District Judge James A. Teilborg today denied their request to temporarily block the law from taking effect on August 2nd, and also issued a final ruling upholding the statute.

Arizona’s law bans abortion at an earlier gestational stage than similar laws recently enacted in the country (at least nine states have some form of abortion ban) and it bans abortion at a critical time when most women undergo prenatal testing to evaluate their own health and the status of a pregnancy. The ban would force a physician caring for a woman with a high-risk pregnancy to wait until her condition imposes an immediate threat of death or major medical damage before offering her the care she needs. The ban also contains no exceptions for a woman who receives the devastating diagnosis that her fetus will not survive after birth, thereby forcing women to continue to carry to term fetuses they know will die.

“This law forces a sick, pregnant woman to wait until she is on the brink of disaster before her doctor can provide her medically appropriate care,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona. “We will continue the fight to protect women’s health and to ensure they can get the care they need.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU have made clear their plan to immediately file an emergency appeal of today’s decision to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to prevent the law from going into effect.

“Today’s decision casts aside decades of legal precedent, ignoring constitutional protections for reproductive rights­ that have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court for nearly 40 years and threatening women’s health and lives,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

A woman facing devastating complications in her pregnancy must have every medical option available to her. Today this court has upheld instead arbitrary and dangerous limits based not on sound medical judgment or concern for women’s health, but on an extreme anti-choice agenda.

“Anyone concerned with the erosion of constitutional rights in the U.S. and the intrusion of government into the lives and private decisions of individual citizens should be profoundly disturbed by today’s decision,” Northup asserted.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that states cannot ban abortion before viability. The Court has also found that any restrictions on abortion must include an exception for when an abortion is “necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health” of a woman.

The Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer apparently do not believe women deserve to enjoy life or liberty.

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  • joejp

    There are exceptions — I agree they are unsatisfactory, but there are.  So, isn’t “all abortions” wrong? 

  • jennifer-starr

    The exceptions–and I’d be willing to bet that the people who framed this bill didn’t want them, but were strong-armed into them to make the bill more palatable–are probably so hard to fulfill that they might at well not even exist.  What exactly constitutes a dire threat to the life of the mother in the eyes of these people?  Would an ectopic pregnancy qualify–or do you have to wait until the tube has ruprtured and the woman is at death’s door? Dangerously high blood pressure?  Organ failure?  Shouldn’t these things be up to ACTUAL DOCTORS instead of politicians who promised to concentrate on jobs?  

    And here I was, thinking that conservatives don’t want the government to come in between people in their doctors. Silly me–in the minds of conservatives, that only seems to apply to MEN. I guess women aren’t people to them. 

  • joejp

    The opinion interprets the statute to allow abortions to deal with an ectopic pregnancy.  Also, to remove a dead fetus.  Abortions are also allowed if the alternative would be a serious and irreversible impairment of a major body function.  You are speaking to the choir in thinking the terms will be applied too narrowly but there are actual cases where such a law would apply.  The true absolutist is hard to find and each judge, prosecutor, doctor or local jury will not be solely made up of them.  The text has meaning and exceptions are there.


    Conservatives, and women vote for these laws too, come between patients and doctors in various ways. For instance, they are afraid of doctors discussing the dangers of guns to MEN too, ditto talking about medicinal marijuana with them.  Do you doubt some conservatives would not interfere with medical decisions of gay men?  Since when do conservatives only harm women?