Enforcement Of GOP Abortion Ban Blocked By Federal Judge In Arizona

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On Monday, U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes blocked the enforcement of an Arizona law that applied all rights ordinarily held by living people to fetuses. The law could’ve left abortion providers facing a potentially expansive range of criminal charges if they carried out an abortion.

The immediate impact on whether abortions are getting performed in Arizona wasn’t immediately clear after Rayes’s ruling, per the Associated Press. Abortion providers stopped “virtually all procedures” in the state, the outlet notes, presumably excluding only those where a pregnant individual’s life was in danger. There are other abortion restrictions looming in Arizona, including a 1901 law banning abortions throughout pregnancy the attorney general is hoping to be allowed to enforce and a much more recently enacted measure banning abortions after 15 weeks. It’s another 15-week ban, in Mississippi, that provided the pretext for the recent U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court’s conservative majority overturned Roe.

In the meantime, Rayes remarked that the ambiguity under the fetal personhood law regarding what laws that abortion providers might be charged with breaking if they carry out an otherwise legal abortion was a problem. “When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, Plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law,” Rayes said. The judge added: “Medical providers should not have to guess about whether the otherwise lawful performance of their jobs could lead to criminal, civil, or professional liability solely based on how literally or maximalist state licensing, law enforcement, and judicial officials might construe the Interpretation Policy’s command.”

“The attorney general’s office told the judge that the personhood law created no new criminal laws, but admitted in their court filings that prosecutors and courts could have a different view,” the Associated Press summarized. Indeed: at least at first pass, it sounds as though the measure supposedly creating no new criminal laws doesn’t mean somebody couldn’t get charged with something else already on the books in relation to the provisions of the law. Even if that’s not the interpretation the attorney general’s office was pushing, the mechanism was there. In practice, the element of intimidation contained within the law — since such a thing was possible — threatened abortion providers.

At least four other states have similar laws in effect, granting the rights associated with “personhood” to fetuses. Jessica Sklarsky, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued the case for those challenging Arizona’s law, noted how “extreme” the ramifications of leaving the “personhood” law in place could have turned out: “The court made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban. The Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision overturning Roe v. Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need.” The same judge dealt with challenges to the same law last year and declined to block it at the time, citing the abortion protections then available from Roe v. Wade. Rayes’s decision to block the law suspends it as court proceedings continue.