Federal Court To Rule on Arizona Abortion Ban
A controversial Arizona law that would ban most most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will be ruled on by a panel of federal judges. Arguments over the law were heard this month by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
Opponents of the law argue that it is in clear opposition to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which ordered that women cannot be banned from getting an abortion until the fetus is viable to live on its own outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks after conception.
The 9th Circuit judges previously blocked the law from taking effect before they could rule on it.
Under the law, should it take effect, doctors who perform abortions on women past the 20 week period can be charged with a misdemeanor, jailed and be suspended from practice. The only exception on the 20 week ban is for medical emergencies; no exceptions would be made for fetuses with fatal birth defects.
Three Arizona physicians challenged the law with the help of New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. “They feel that it is not only going to deny their patients their constitutional rights, but also deny them access to what the doctors feel is very important health care,” says Janet Crepps, CRR’s senior counsel, who argued against the law in court.
For the law’s opponents, the issue is simple: No abortion bans before viability means no abortion bans before viability. “That is a very clear line that the Supreme Court has drawn and reaffirmed,” Crepps says. “The court ascribed that as the central tenet of abortion cases.”
In the past two years, 32 states passed some form of abortion restriction, including bans at 20 weeks of gestation. A law similar to Arizona’s is being challenged in Idaho.
Bright Line Rule
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery argued in favor of the law, claiming the restrictions would help protect women’s health. The judges were not receptive to the state’s argument, according to a news report, sarcastically asking Montgomery if the state planned to pass similar laws for other medical procedures that could pose patient dangers, such as plastic surgery.
“The state has tried to come back and argue that this isn’t really a ban on abortion, it’s a regulation on abortion,” Crepps says, since the law does allow abortions for women having medical emergencies. However, the attorney argues, “When the Supreme Court created this bright line rule, it said it doesn’t matter what exceptions you have in the law. If it bans abortion prior to viability, it’s unconstitutional.”
The state also tried to justify the law as protecting fetuses from experiencing pain, citing a disputed study. Roe v. Wade doesn’t reference fetal pain, but it doesn’t matter, Crepps argues. “The Royal College of Obstetricians in the UK has issued a comprehensive report that it does not appear that fetuses can feel pain, and the Journal of the American Medical Association came to same conclusion,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what the justification for the law is. Whether potential life, fetal pain, whatever. The Supreme Court has already spoken on this issue.”
It could get another chance. If the law is struck down, Arizona would surely try to appeal to the Supreme Court, the ultimate goal being a ruling that would strike down Roe v. Wade. However, attorneys fighting against the law are hoping that the issue is indisputable enough that the high court would decline to even hear the case.
“I suspect that if they lose they will ask the Supreme Court to review the case,” says Crepps. “The Supreme Court has already been very clear on this issue and we would hope that they would deny review because there’s no real question of unsettled law here.”