Arizona Abortion Law: What Arizona's Failed Abortion Ban Means For Roe v. Wade

On Monday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court of Arizona’s ruling and struck down the state’s ban on abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The doctors who brought the case claim the ban would force physicians caring for women with high-risk pregnancies to wait until her condition poses immediate threat of death or severe medical damage before providing her with the care. The law also provides no exception for women who find out their fetus has no chance of surviving after birth, forcing women to carry their wanted but futile pregnancies for as many as four additional months.

"Lawmakers cannot impose their personal ideologies on the women of Arizona,” said Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, which, along with the national ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, brought the challenge to the law on the doctor’s behalf. “This law endangered women’s health and was knowingly passed by the Arizona legislature despite clearly violating established constitutional requirements.”

Arizona’s 20-week ban is the second such ban to be struck down by a federal court; the District Court of Idaho found a similar law unconstitutional in March. Another challenge to a 20-week ban is currently pending in Georgia state court. Proponents of these bans argue that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks of development in the womb, a scientific theory that has been largely refuted by the medical establishment.

Arizona's ban stretched farther than the typical 20-week ban because it measured a women’s pregnancy by weeks since her last menstrual period, rather than estimated date of conception. Its reign as the strictest abortion law in the country was short-lived, however. Arkansas banned abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy earlier this year, followed closely by North Dakota, which banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.  Neither law has gone into effect as of yet and both have been challenged in the federal courts.

The anti-abortion movement has passed a landslide of laws restricting abortion access since the 2010 elections. Many theorize abortion bans like Arizona’s are getting passed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican State Senator Kimberly Yee, sponsor of the 20-week ban, said she was not surprised by the Ninth Circuit’s ruling (The court is well-known to be liberal-leaning). "I'm optimistic that the state will have a compelling argument if we move this before the Supreme Court,” Yee told reporters. 

The state of Arizona has 90 days to petition the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, or to ask that its appeal be heard. It may also choose to petition the Ninth Circuit to rehear the case en banc, which would require the entire panel of Ninth Circuit judges to rule on the constitutionality of the law.

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Alison Tanner

Alison is a recent graduate of the University of California - Davis, where she studied political science and women's studies and served the student body as an ASUCD Senator. She is currently a legal assistant for the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. Views expressed here are her own.

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