9th Circuit blocks new Arizona abortion law
PHOENIX — Arizona won't be banning abortions at 20 weeks, at least not yet.
In a brief order Wednesday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted an emergency request by foes of the law to keep it from taking effect as scheduled Thursday while the judges review a lower court ruling which said the law is constitutional. They gave no reason for their order.
Wednesday's ruling means the law remains on hold for at least two months, if not more.
The court gave opponents of the law until Sept. 4 to file formal briefs on why they believe it is illegal. Supporters, led by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, then have until Oct. 3 to respond.
The court gave the foes another two weeks after that to reply, with a hearing on the issue to follow.
The measure, approved earlier this year, was designed to supersede existing Arizona law that bans abortion at the point of fetal viability, considered to be from 22 to 24 weeks.
Supporters argued that the change protects maternal health, saying abortions at 20 weeks or beyond are more dangerous than procedures performed earlier in pregnancy. They also said there is evidence that a fetus at that stage of development can feel pain.
Opponents disputed the fetal pain provision. But they also said the law — and a decision last week by a federal judge to uphold it — flies in the face of two prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings that states cannot ban or impose substantial obstacles on abortions prior to viability.
In granting the injunction less than 12 hours before it was set to take effect, the appellate judges rejected Montgomery's arguments that the law should be allowed to take effect while the court considers its legality. He argued that those seeking to overturn the law “have yet to identify even one pregnant woman who is disadvantaged by the enactment of the act.''
But Janet Crepps, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it's virtually certain someone will be affected — and soon.
She said the three doctors who are challenging the law regularly provide abortions to patients at or after 20 weeks but before viability.
“Based on the fact that they provide more than 50 such procedures per year, they are very likely to have such a patient within the next several days and almost certain to have such a patient within the next 21 days,'' Crepps told the court.
Challengers also pointed out the risk to doctors who perform abortions in violation of the law: up to six months in jail and loss of their medical licenses.
Wednesday's order most immediately stays a ruling last week by U.S. District Court Judge James Teilborg, who concluded that the law is constitutional.