Seeking to restore access to abortion services in Arizona, the Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners filed a lawsuit yesterday asking an Arizona court to clarify doctors’ obligations under the state’s multiple, overlapping abortion laws, which have forced providers to cease abortion services for fear of criminal prosecution.
The lawsuit requests that the Maricopa County Superior Court interpret the laws and clarify that under the current laws physicians can provide abortion care through 15 weeks of pregnancy without risk of criminal prosecution for violating a criminal abortion ban tracing back to the Civil War-era.
Filed on behalf of an Arizona abortion provider and the Arizona Medical Association, the case argues that in accordance with Arizona law, laws passed in the last 50 years should take precedence over the 150-year-old total ban recently allowed to take effect. Another Arizona law in effect, enacted in March 2022, bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“The state of Arizona has caused complete chaos by seeking to enforce clashing abortion bans, including one of the most extreme in the country,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This has put Arizonans in an untenable situation. 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.”
Arizona’s Confusing and Conflicting Laws Forced Clinics to Stop Providing Abortion Services
Due to the uncertainty of Arizona’s laws and the threat of felony criminal penalties, Arizona clinics have stopped providing abortion services. The laws have also caused confusion in emergency care settings, with physicians uncertain about what care is permissible to treat patients facing emergency or life-threatening pregnancy complications of other medical conditions.
In the lawsuit filed today, physicians are asking the court to clarify the state’s abortion laws and how they interact and work in practice—particularly, how the Civil War-era total abortion ban interacts with more recent laws on the books that recognize legal abortion.
- The Civil-War-era abortion ban—which was enacted before Arizona was a state and traces back to 1864—is one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, with no exceptions for rape, incest, or threats to a pregnant person’s health and with the threat of imprisonment up to five years for providers who violate the law. The law had been enjoined in 1973 after the Roe v. Wade decision but was allowed to take effect on September 23, 2022, after a state court granted the Arizona Attorney General’s request to lift the injunction following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that overturned Roe and eliminated the constitutional right to abortion.
- The Arizona law enacted in 2022 bans abortion care after 15 weeks of pregnancy. That law took effect on September 24, 2022—the day after the century-old, near-total ban was reinstated—and would permit abortion services to resume in the state.
“Arizona’s numerous, contradictory abortion laws have left providers and patients in limbo and without any clarity on what the law actually is. With one of the most draconian bans now in effect in the state, doctors are being left to second-guess whether they can or should provide abortion care in fear of facing severe punishment while patients, including those in dangerous situations, will not know where to turn to for care,” said Gail Deady, staff attorney at the Center.
“People deserve the ability to decide what’s best for their own lives, futures, and families.” added Deady. “With this lawsuit, we are continuing to stand by Arizonans, and we hope the court will do the same.”
Today’s lawsuit was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), ACLU of Arizona, and Perkins Coie on behalf of the Arizona Medical Association and abortion provider Dr. Paul Isaacson.