Almost all abortions became illegal in Arizona on Saturday, after a new law banning abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy took effect and a judge lifted an almost 50-year-old injunction that blocked a near-total ban on abortions from being enforced in the state.
Judge Kellie Johnson of Pima county’s superior court released a ruling on Friday that allowed the enforcement of the decades-old ban, a day before a new law that would ban most procedures after 15 weeks was scheduled to take effect, reported the Washington Post.
The law Johnson reinstated dates from 1864 and bans all abortions with no exception for rape or incest. The only exception involves a recipient whose life is in danger.
The law was later updated and codified in 1901, before the 1973 US supreme court decision known as Roe v Wade that established nationwide abortion rights. Many states failed to update their laws after the provision of those federal abortion protections, which the US supreme court’s current conservative majority eliminated in June.
Immediately after Johnson’s ruling, several Arizona clinics that provided abortions stopped carrying out the procedure to avoid criminal charges for their medical professionals, forcing almost all patients in need of an abortion to travel out of state.
Those who have already stopped offering abortions included Planned Parenthood along with two other abortion providers, the Associated Press reported.
Under Arizona’s new anti-abortion law, doctors or other healthcare professionals who terminate pregnancies could face between two and five years in prison.
Abortion rights advocates and Democratic legislators condemned the new law in Arizona as well as Johnson’s ruling.
The president and CEO of the Arizona branch of Planned Parenthood, Brittany Fonteno, called the ban “archaic” and said it was “sending Arizonans back nearly 150 years”, referring to when the law was first written, according to the Arizona Republic.
The Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema called out Johnson’s ruling on Twitter, writing in part: “A woman’s healthcare decisions should be between her, her family, and her doctor. Today’s decision removes basic rights Arizona women have relied upon for over a century and endangers their health, safety, and wellbeing.”
Arizona’s other US senator, Mark Kellyposted on Twitter: “Repealing Roe v Wade set Arizona women’s rights back decades. This decision sets them back 158 years, to before Arizona was even a state. I won’t stop until we restore abortion rights so my granddaughter can have the same freedoms my grandmother did.”
Johnson’s ruling has also caused confusion statewide, with some calling for the enforcement of the harsher ban codified in 1901 and others wanting only the 15-week ban to be enforced, reported the Post.
The Arizona attorney general, Mark Brnovich, who filed to have the injunction blocking the older ban lifted, has argued that the harsher of the two laws will take precedent, reports the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, has stated the 15-week ban will be followed, with a representative of his office telling the Times that the governor is proud to have signed the ban. However, Ducey has not clarified whether the more restrictive law will be enforced.
Johnson, for her part, has indicated that the more restrictive law should be followed versus the 15-week ban.
“Most recently in 2022, the legislature enacted a 15-week gestational age limitation on abortion,” the judge wrote. “The legislature expressly included in the session law that the 15-week gestational age limitation” would not “repeal” the previous ban.
Legal experts have also warned that the previously approved 15-week ban may no longer be tenable, with Loyola Marymount University family law professor Kaiponanea Matsumura telling the Post that Brnovich’s position as attorney general “opens the door to prosecutions under that law”.
Arizona is now among at least 14 states which have outlawed most abortions. Several more have similar bans that are temporarily blocked amid legal wrangling over whether or not they can be enforced.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism