Arizona’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, absent a medical emergency, violates a woman’s constitutionally protected right to kill her unborn baby before it is able to survive outside the womb, a federal court ruled Tuesday, striking down the pro-life law.
Judge Marsha Berzon, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said such bans before “viability” violate a long string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings, starting with the pivotal Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which legalized abortion.
“A woman has a constitutional right to choose to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is viable,” the judge wrote. Most consider viability to start at 24 weeks. Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks.
On behalf of the state, lawyers argued that the ban wasn’t technically a law but rather a medical regulation, because it allowed for doctors to perform abortions in medical emergencies. Berzon rejected that reasoning, regarding the legislation as a law banning abortions before a baby is viable.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed the ban into law in April 2012 after the Republican-led Legislature approved it. Supporters said the law was created to protect the mother's health and prevent unborn babies from feeling pain. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg ruled it was constitutional, partly because of those concerns, but the 9th Circuit blocked the ban from going into effect until it ruled.
Nine other states have enacted similar bans starting at 20 weeks or even earlier to protect the life of unborn children. Several of those bans had previously been placed on hold or struck down by other courts.
On Friday a federal judge ruled that an Arkansas law banning most abortions 12 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy, set to take effect in August, will be put on hold while a legal challenge is pending. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued the state on behalf of two Little Rock abortion providers and sought an injunction to block the ban’s enforcement.
Republicans, though, will continue to fight for the rights of the unborn.
“When there is a heartbeat, there is life,” Arkansas State Sen. Jason Rapert said. “And it is time in this nation and in our state, when you have 55 million human beings that have been taken, we must have a more rational and a more humane policy on abortion in our nation.”