Ninth Circuit Halts Arizona’s Implementation of 20 Week Abortion Ban

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an emergency preliminary injunction last week preventing a new Arizona abortion ban from being implemented until the court has heard the case this fall and issues a ruling.  The injunction came two days after a U.S. District Court judge upheld the state’s law, one of many abortion restrictions passed during the most recent legislative session. This law would make Arizona one of nine states to generally prohibit abortions more than 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period.

The 20 week bans are part of a new legislative movement based on the concept that fetuses can experience pain after 20 weeks of gestation. Supporters of the ban assert that, in addition to causing pain to the fetus, abortion procedures performed this late in a woman’s pregnancy put the woman at increased medical risk. The District Court judge found that the ban would not substantially obstruct the majority of abortions and that fetal pain was a “legitimate interest” of the state’s restriction.

Those in opposition of the ban counter that a woman’s medical risk was actually increased by not allowing her to have an abortion after 20 weeks.  They argue that the fetal pain concept is not grounded in acceptable scientific fact. They also contend that the exceptions for medical emergencies are so narrowly drawn that women may suffer severe medical issues by being forced to carry dangerous pregnancies to term. The legislation exempts late abortions from the ban for purposes of avoiding death of the mother or a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

The ban, if upheld by the Ninth Circuit, will make the performance of abortions after 20 weeks a misdemeanor and will put the doctor at risk of license revocation. The law additionally imposes other abortion restrictions, including requirements for the creation of a state website illustrating fetal development, parental consent for minors, and limitations on the conditions for prescribing nonsurgical abortions. So far, 2012 has been an active year for anti-abortion legislation, with 40 abortion constraints having been enacted into law by 13 states.