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Supreme Court Declines 20-Week Abortion Ban Case; Lower Court's Ruling Stands

Supreme Court Declines 20-Week Abortion Ban Case; Lower Court's Ruling Stands

January 13, 2014 — The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal of a lower court's ruling that an Arizona law prohibiting abortions at 20 weeks of gestation is unconstitutional, the New York Times reports (Liptak, New York Times, 1/13).

The Arizona law provided exemptions only when "immediate" termination of a pregnancy is required to avert a 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.

In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the law, ruling that the measure violates Supreme Court precedent prohibiting states from banning abortion prior to fetal viability (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/22/13). The state in November asked the Supreme Court to review the case (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/5/13).

Ruling Invalidates Arizona Law, Destabilizes Other State Bans

The Supreme Court's decision means that the lower court's ruling invalidating the law will stand, and it adds to uncertainty about the legality of several similar abortion bans in about a dozen other states, Bloomberg reports (Stohr, Bloomberg, 1/13). Courts have also struck down a similar Idaho measure as unconstitutional and enjoined a Georgia law from taking effect while a lawsuit over its constitutionality proceeds (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/22/13).

The laws are based on the medically refuted claim that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development (Bloomberg, 1/13).