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Appeals Court Blocks Ariz. 20-Week Abortion Ban From Taking Effect

Appeals Court Blocks Ariz. 20-Week Abortion Ban From Taking Effect

August 2, 2012 — A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday temporarily blocked an Arizona law (HB 2036) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Reuters reports. The preliminary injunction comes two days after a federal judge upheld the law, which was set to take effect on Thursday (Schwartz, Reuters, 8/2).

The law bans abortion beginning at 20 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period; if enacted, it would set the earliest limit for abortion in the country. The 20-week restriction differs from the standard affirmed by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that states cannot ban abortion prior to viability, as well as the court's ruling in Roe v. Wade that post-viability bans must include exceptions for the health or life of the woman.

The suit -- filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by three Arizona physicians, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union -- argued that the law unconstitutionally limits women's access to abortions prior to a fetus' viability. Arizona is one of several states that have enacted 20-week abortion bans in the past two years based on medically disputed research that a fetus can feel pain around that point.

The Arizona law provides an exemption only when "immediate" termination of the pregnancy is required to avert the woman's death or risk of "substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." Physicians found to violate the law would face a misdemeanor charge and possible suspension or revocation of their licenses (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/31).

Details of Injunction

The three-judge panel placed the law on hold while the court considers a pending appeal, which will take at least several months.

In a brief order, the panel said it will hold a hearing as soon as possible after receiving legal briefs that are due in September and October (AP/Washington Post, 8/1). Julie Rikelman, litigation director for CRR, said a final decision likely will be delivered in November or December (Chuck, NBC News, 8/2).

Reaction

CRR President and CEO Nancy Northup said in a statement, "Today we have won a critical victory," adding, "We will continue this battle now to ensure that the private and personal decisions of Arizona women are not subject to arbitrary and dangerous restrictions advanced by an extreme anti-choice agenda" (Smith, Politico, 8/1).

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who defended the law in court last week, said in a statement, "The order to place the case for argument recognizes the important interests of Arizona, and I look forward to the opportunity to counter the misplaced arguments of the plaintiffs" (Reuters, 8/2).