Court of Appeals ruling allows abortions to restart in Arizona


PHOENIX (AP) — Abortions can once again take place in Arizona, at least for now, after an appeals court on Friday blocked enforcement of a prestate law that almost entirely criminalized the procedure.

The three-judge Arizona Court of Appeals panel agreed with Planned Parenthood that a judge should not have lifted the decades-old order that prevented the imposition of the old law.

The brief order written by Presiding Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom said Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate had shown they were likely to prevail on an appeal of a Tucson judge’s decision allowing the application of the old law.

Planned Parenthood had argued that the lower court judge should have reviewed a slew of laws restricting abortions passed since the original injunction was put in place following the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, that women have a constitutional right to abortion.

These laws include a new blocking abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy which came into force last month. The previous limit was 24 weeks, the viability standard established by the now overturned US Supreme Court cases.

“The courts of Arizona have a responsibility to attempt to harmonize all relevant state laws,” Eckerstrom wrote, mirroring arguments made by lawyers for Planned Parenthood.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in June, and Republican Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich then asked that the injunction blocking pre-state abortion enforcement be lifted. It had been published in 1973, shortly after Roe’s decision. Pima Court Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson agreed on September 23 and lifted the order two weeks ago.

“Today’s decision provides a sense of security that our patients and providers desperately need,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “We can now breathe a sigh of relief and serve patients. Although the fight is not over, for now Arizonans will once again be able to make their own decisions about their bodies, their health care and their future.

Brnovich’s spokeswoman, Brittni Thomason, said in a statement that “our office understands this is an emotional issue, and we will carefully review the court’s decision before determining the next step.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the 15-week law he signed in March prevails. But his lawyers did not seek to defend this position in court.

The wording of the new 15-week ban said it did not repeal prestate law, and Brnovich and some Republican lawmakers insisted the old law prevailed. It contains an exception if the life of the mother is in danger, but not in the case of rape or incest.

Providers across the state halted abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, but many restarted procedures in midsummer. It came after a federal judge blocked a separate ‘personality’ law they said would allow criminal prosecution of doctors and nurses. They halted again after Johnson’s decision.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights advocates have repeatedly said that Arizona’s competing abortion laws create confusion for providers and patients.

The appeals court said Planned Parenthood has shown it is likely to prevail over its argument that the trial court erred in limiting its analysis only to the attorney general’s request to waive the 50-year injunction and refusing to consider subsequent laws passed by the A legislature to regulate abortion.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 14: Planned Parenthood President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson Women’s March Foundation National Day of Action! The ‘Bans Off Our Bodies’ rally for reproductive rights at Los Angeles City Hall on May 14, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. In an initial draft majority opinion obtained by Politico and authenticated by Chief Justice John Roberts, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote that Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey should be quashed, which that would end federal abortion rights protection nationwide. (Photo by Sarah Morris/Getty Images)

Sarah Morris via Getty Images

Eckerstrom wrote that a stay is appropriate “given the acute need of health care providers, prosecuting agencies, and the public for legal clarity about the application of our criminal laws. Notably, in the underlying litigation, both parties sought some form of clarification from the court.

The appeals court has scheduled a hearing next week to determine whether to set an expedited schedule for hearing Planned Parenthood’s full appeal.

Separately this week, a Phoenix doctor and an abortion rights group filed a lawsuit to block the old law, raising similar arguments that Johnson had rejected. In her decision, Johnson wrote that while there may be legal issues regarding conflicting laws, they were not properly before her.

Some Arizona clinics have been referring patients to providers in California and New Mexico since Johnson lifted the injunction on the old law. The pre-state law carries a penalty of two to five years in prison for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion. Last year, the legislature repealed a law allowing charges against women seeking abortions.

A Phoenix clinic has developed a workaround to allow patients who can use abortion pills to have them delivered to the California-Arizona border for pickup. This reduces the time it takes to get abortion pills, which are effective up to 12 weeks gestation, from a two-day trip to a trip that can be done in one day.

Since Roe’s overturn, Arizona and 13 other states have banned abortions at all stages of pregnancy. About 13,000 people in Arizona have abortions each year, according to reports from the Arizona Department of Health Services.




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