PHOENIX (TAUT) — Arizona can enforce a near-complete abortion ban that has been blocked for nearly 50 years, a judge ruled Friday, meaning clinics across the state will have to stop providing the procedures to avoid criminal charges. prosecution is brought against doctors and other medical workers.
The judge lifted a decades-old injunction that blocked enforcement of the Books Act long before Arizona became a state that bans nearly all abortions. The only exception is if the woman’s life is in danger.
The ruling means that people who want an abortion will have to go to another state to get one. An appeal against the ruling is likely.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson’s decision came more than a month after she heard arguments over Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift the ban. It came into effect shortly after the US Supreme Court ruling in 1973 in the Roe v. Wade case, which held that women had a constitutional right to abortion.
The near-total abortion ban was enacted decades before Arizona was granted statehood in 1912. The prosecution was halted after the warrant was issued following the Roe decision. Still, the legislature has reintroduced the law several times, most recently in 1977.
Assistant Attorney General Beau Roysden told Johnson at an Aug. 19 hearing that since Roe was quashed, the only reason for the injunction to block the old law is gone and she must allow it to be enforced. Under that law, anyone who performs a surgical abortion or provides medication for a drug abortion could face two to five years in prison.
An attorney for Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate argued that if the pre-state ban were enforced, a host of more recent laws regulating abortion would become meaningless. Instead, she urged the courts to allow licensed physicians to perform abortions and extend the old ban only to unlicensed practitioners.
The judge sided with Brnovich, saying that because the ban was filed in 1973 only because of the Roe decision, it should be lifted in its entirety.
“The Court finds an attempt to reconcile fifty years of legislative activity procedurally inappropriate in the context of the motion and its recording,” Johnson wrote. “While there are legal questions that the parties are trying to resolve regarding Arizona’s statutes on abortion, these questions are not for the Court to decide here.”
By overthrowing Roe on June 24, the Supreme Court said states can regulate abortion however they want.
“We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue,” Brnovich said in a statement. “I have and will continue to protect the most vulnerable Arizonans.”
A doctor who runs a clinic that offers abortions said she was stunned but not surprised by the decision.
“It kind of matches what I’ve been saying for a while — it’s the intent of the people who run this state that abortion is illegal here,” said Dr. DeShawn Taylor. “Of course we want to keep hope in the back of our minds, but in the back of our minds I’m preparing for the total ban all the time.”
Abortion providers have been on a rollercoaster since Roe was overthrown, first closed operations, reopened and now have to close again.
Johnson, the judge, said Planned Parenthood was free to file a new challenge. But with Arizona’s strict abortion laws and all seven Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans, the chances of success seem slim.
What is allowed in each state has shifted as lawmakers and courts acted. Before Friday’s ruling, abortions are banned at any time during pregnancy in 12 Republican-led states,
In another state, Wisconsin, clinics have stopped providing abortions during lawsuits over whether an 1849 ban is in effect. Georgia bans abortions as soon as fetal cardiac activity is detected, and Florida and Utah have bans that come into effect after 15 and 18 weeks gestation, respectively.
The ruling came a day before a new Arizona law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy goes into effect. The law passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed in March by GOP Governor Doug Ducey was passed in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court would scale back limits on abortion prescriptions. It reflected a Mississippi law that the Supreme Court was considering at the time that cut about nine weeks off the previous threshold.
Ducey has argued that the new law he signed takes precedence over the pre-state law, but he has not sent his lawyers to argue that for Johnson.
The old law was first passed as part of a series of laws known as the “Howell Code,” passed by Arizona’s 1st Territorial Legislature in 1864.