Court Battles

Abortion lawsuit in Arizona targets confusion over ‘clashing’ bans

Celina Washburn protests outside the Arizona Capitol to voice her dissent with an abortion ruling, Friday, Sept. 23, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

An alliance of pro-abortion groups filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging Arizona’s abortion restrictions, asking a state court to clarify the multiple statutes in effect and arguing the procedure should be allowed through 15 weeks of pregnancy.

A state judge last month ruled that Arizona could enforce its strict 1800s-era abortion ban — blocked for nearly 50 years when Roe v. Wade was legal precedent — shortly before a more lenient law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy took effect.

“The state of Arizona has caused complete chaos by seeking to enforce clashing abortion bans, including one of the most extreme in the country,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“This has put Arizonans in an untenable situation,” Northup continued. “Providers and patients have no sense of what the law is and whether they are breaking it. The court must restore abortion access and put an end to this legal and public health crisis.”  

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the ACLU of Arizona and law firm Perkins Coie filed the suit on behalf of an abortion provider in the state and the Arizona Medical Association.

The pre-Roe law, enacted in 1864, bans abortions in all cases except for when the pregnant person’s life is at risk, and physicians who violate the law can face up to five years in jail.

A judge issued an injunction following the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling nearly 50 years ago, but the ban is now once again in effect after justices overturned abortion protections earlier this year in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The White House condemned the judge for reimplementing the pre-Roe ban.

Arizona’s legislature passed a separate abortion bill earlier this year in advance of the Dobbs decision, which was signed into law by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R). The law, which is now in effect, bans abortions at 15 weeks.

“It is unclear from both the face of the laws and the many inconsistent statements from public officials which law governs in Arizona,” the suit states, adding that abortion providers have preemptively shut down because of the confusion.

The groups urged the judge to “harmonize” the two laws by rejecting the decades-old statute, arguing that it would otherwise “obliterate” the more lenient restrictions passed this year.

“The confusing web of abortion laws in Arizona has allowed a 150-year-old law to push life-saving care out of reach for countless people,” said Rebecca Chan, an attorney at ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Katie Conner, spokesperson for the Arizona attorney general’s office, said the state had not yet been served the lawsuit.

“It shows that the ACLU is more concerned about press releases and getting headlines than getting clarity on the law,” said Conner. “We decline to comment further.”

Updated: 6:37 p.m.

Tags abortion Abortion abortion bans ACLU Arizona Arizona abortion ban Nancy Northup Roe v. Wade

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