Abortions can be performed again in Arizona, at least for now, after an appeals court on Friday blocked an earlier state law that almost entirely criminalized the process.
The three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with Planned Parenthood that a judge should not have lifted the decades-old injunction blocking enforcement of the older law.
The short order written by Presiding Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom said Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate had shown they were likely to prevail in an appeal of a Tucson judge’s decision to allow enforcement of the old law.
They said the judge should have considered a series of abortion-restricting laws passed since the original order went into effect following the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that said women have a constitutional right to abortion.
These laws include a new law preventing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy that came into effect last month. The previous limit was 24 weeks, the viability standard established by now-overturned US Supreme Court cases.
“Arizona courts have a responsibility to try to harmonize all relevant statutes in this state,” Eckerstrom wrote, mirroring the arguments of Planned Parenthood’s lawyers.
The Supreme Court threw out Roe in June, and Arizona’s Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich subsequently sought to lift the injunction that prevents the state from enforcing abortion. Pima Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson agreed on Sept. 23 and lifted the order two weeks ago.
“Today’s decision provides a desperately needed sense of security for both our patients and our providers,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We can now breathe a sigh of relief and serve patients. While the fight is not over, for now, Arizonans will once again be able to make their own decisions about their bodies, health care decisions and their future.”
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from a spokesman for state attorney general Mark Brnovich.
Republican Gov. Doug Ducey said the 15-week law he signed in March takes precedence, but his lawyers have not tried to argue that position in court.
Language in the new 15-week ban said it does not repeal the state’s pre-existing law, and Brnovich and some Republican lawmakers have insisted the old law takes precedence. It includes an exception if the mother’s life is in danger, but not for rape or incest.
Providers across the state halted abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling, but many resumed procedures by midsummer. That came after a federal judge blocked a separate “personhood” law that he feared would allow criminal prosecutions of doctors and nurses. They stopped again after Johnson’s decision.
The appeals court said the trial court erred by limiting its analysis only to the attorney general’s request to vacate the injunction issued after Roe was issued and by refusing to consider subsequent laws passed by the Legislature to regulate abortion.
The appeals court set a hearing for next week to consider whether to set a post to hear Planned Parenthood’s full appeal.
Separately this week, a Phoenix doctor and an abortion rights group sued to block the old law, making similar arguments that Johnson had rejected. In her decision, Johnson wrote that while there may be legal questions about conflicting laws, they were not properly before her.
Some clinics in Arizona have been referring patients to providers in California and New Mexico since Johnson lifted the old law’s mandate. The pre-state law carries a prison sentence of two to five years for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion. Last year, the Legislature repealed a law that allowed charges against women seeking abortions.
A Phoenix clinic has come up with a solution to allow patients who can use abortion pills to drop them off at the California-Arizona border for pickup. This cuts the time it takes to take abortion pills, which are effective up to 12 weeks pregnant, from a two-day trip to one that can be done in one day.
Since Roe was overturned, Arizona and 13 other states have banned abortions at any stage of pregnancy. About 13,000 people in Arizona have abortions each year, according to reports from the Arizona Department of Health.