Appeals court: Arizona abortion ban is flatly unconstitutional

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, May 21, 2013 14:43 EDT
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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that Arizona’s ban on all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy is flatly unconstitutional, striking it down without additional comment.

The state’s Republican majority passed the law last April, making Arizona one of the most restrictive states in the union for reproductive rights. Experts said that the law was so broadly written and carried with it so little medical expertise that it actually applied to women after their 18th week of pregnancy — meaning that, for a time, the state classified women as pregnant up to two weeks before they even had sex.

“The challenged Arizona statute’s medical emergency exception does not transform the law from a prohibition on abortion into a regulation of abortion procedure,” Clinton-appointed judge Marsha S. Berzon wrote in the court’s majority opinion (PDF). “Allowing a physician to decide if abortion is medically necessary is not the same as allowing a woman to decide whether to carry her own pregnancy to term.”

“Moreover, regulations involve limitations as to the mode and manner of abortion, not preclusion of the choice to terminate a pregnancy altogether,” she added. “Arizona’s twenty-week law is a preclusion prior to fetal viability and is thus invalid under binding Supreme Court precedent.”

That Supreme Court precedent is the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which prohibits states from banning abortion outright but allows some regulation of the procedure.

“We’re glad the court has reaffirmed that states cannot place unlawful burdens on a woman’s right to access safe reproductive health care,” Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in an advisory. “Politicians do not have the right to interfere in serious and personal decisions that should only be made by a woman with the help of her family and her doctor.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) was similarly pleased with Tuesday’s ruling. “Last year, Arizona led the nation in the number of legislative attacks against women’s health care,” Nancy Northup, CRR president, wrote in a statement. “With today’s defeat in federal court, we call on the governor and legislature to stop wasting Arizona taxpayers’ time and money on these cruel and extremely harmful efforts to chip away at women’s constitutionally protected rights.”

[Photo: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue, creative commons licensed.[

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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