A federal court on Tuesday struck down Arizona’s abortion ban for pregnancies after 20 weeks, just 13 months after Gov. Jan Brewer had signed it into law. Judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled unanimously that the abortion ban, House Bill 2036, violates a woman’s constitutional rights.
According to the appeals court, the abortion ban violated a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is determined “viable” at 24 weeks of an average 40-week pregnancy. Judge Marsha Berzon wrote on behalf of the three-judge panel that the law directly violates the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and other cases since. Berzon wrote: "A woman has a constitutional right to choose to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is viable."
“Arizona simply cannot proscribe a woman from choosing to obtain an abortion before the fetus is viable,” the judges wrote.
The abortion ban, which had outlawed termination of pregnancy after the 20th week with the exception of medical emergencies, was signed in April 2012 by Brewer, a Republican. The bill states that the ban is to “prohibit abortions at or after 20 weeks of gestation, except in cases of a medical emergency, based on the documented risks to women's health and the strong medical evidence that unborn children feel pain during an abortion at that gestational age.” House Bill 2036 states that “there is substantial and well-documented medical evidence that an unborn child by at least 20 weeks of gestation has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion.”
Arizona isn't the first state to introduce a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Other states including Arkansas and North Dakota have enacted similar restrictive bans.
The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and Center for Reproductive Rights sued to block the law for its unconstitutionality. The ban was upheld in July by U.S. District Judge James Teilborg before the 9th Circuit Court blocked it Tuesday. AZ Central reports that opponents of the law are overjoyed with the strike-down and are now urging state officials to “not waste further time and taxpayer money on the case.”
“Lawmakers cannot impose their personal ideologies on the women of Arizona,” Arizona's ACLU Legal Director Dan Pochoda said in a statement. “This law endangered women’s health and was knowingly passed by the Arizona legislature despite clearly violating established constitutional requirements.”
“The law in this area is clear,” Center for Reproductive Rights Attorney Janet Crepps said. “The constitutional protection for women, up until the point of viability, is it’s up to the woman to make that decision. The state can’t cross that line; it can’t fudge that line.”
However, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said he will continue to argue the ban on behalf of the state by petitioning the high court.
"Given the compelling and important interest Arizona has in protecting the health and well-being of expectant mothers from the dangers of abortions after 20 weeks and to protect children in the womb from needless and horrific imposition of pain, we will seek review from the United States Supreme Court," Montgomery said. "If the 9th Circuit cannot permit Arizona to act because of Supreme Court precedent, then the Supreme Court must change that precedent."
House Bill 2036 is not the only controversial reproductive-rights-related bill signed by Brewer in the past. She also signed House Bill 2625, dubbed the Arizona Birth Control Bill because it lets employers deny insurance coverage for birth control pills if the employee is taking the drug to prevent pregnancy and not for health concerns.