Supreme Court: Arizona Can’t Enforce Ban on Abortions After 20 Weeks

The Supreme Court issued a ruling today saying the state of Arizona can’t enforce its law to ban abortions after five months of pregnancy.

After a federal judge upheld an Arizona law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, one of the most liberal appeals courts in the nation struck is down. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law violates U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion, including Roe v. Wade. The ruling does not affect similar laws passed in other states except the law in Idaho, which is also covered under the jurisdiction of the appeals court.

The Attorney General of Arizona and the Maricopa County (Arizona) Attorney appealed Arizona’s law that limits abortions after five months of pregnancy to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to reverse the appellate court ruling.

Today, the Supreme Court issued a brief order rejecting the appeal and giving no reason for their decision — however the case continues.

As AP reports, “Technically speaking, Montgomery still has an opportunity to challenge the law. The only thing at issue today was his request to dissolve the injunction against its enforcement while the litigation proceeds. But given the broad sweep of the language of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it is doubtful the measure ever will be on the books.”

Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven Aden emailed LifeNews about the ruling: “Every innocent life deserves to be protected. Not only did this law protect innocent children in the womb who experience horrific pain during a late-term abortion, it also protected mothers from the increased risk of physical harm and tremendous psychological consequences that come with late-term abortions. New medical knowledge about the pain children can experience in the womb and the potential harms to women shouldn’t be ignored in any civilized society.”

Attorneys with Americans United for Life are serving as co-counsel.

“Horne v. Isaacson may well be the case that leads the Supreme Court to examine and acknowledge the risks of abortion to women,” Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest told LifeNews. “In 1973 in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the Supreme Court put the life and health of the mother front and center in the abortion debate. Detailing the numerous studies and evidence that has developed since the 1973 decisions, the Arizona law protects women from the known harm from abortion, as well as considering the pain abortion inflicts on unborn children.”

Yoest said a five-month limit on abortion has been enacted by 12 states and passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year. The Arizona law is the first of these five-month abortion limits to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Yoest added that, as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton in 1973, the U.S. is one of just a handful of nations to allow abortions for any reason after fetal viability.

Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are co-counsel in the case as well.

“Every innocent life deserves to be protected. Not only does this law protect children in the womb who experience horrific pain during a late-term abortion, it also protects mothers from the dangers and tremendous psychological consequences of late-term abortions,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Steven H. Aden. “Arizona’s law is entirely reasonable and constitutional, and we hope the Supreme Court takes this invitation to revisit the extreme constraints Roe v. Wade imposed on state safeguards for women’s health.”

In May, the 9th Circuit ruled against Arizona H.B. 2036, reversing a district court which upheld the law based on its conclusions that “the unborn child has developed pain sensors all over its body by 20 weeks gestational age” and that legitimate concern exists for “the health of the pregnant woman” because the instance of complications is exponentially higher after that time. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys had filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the 9th Circuit on behalf of a doctors’ group that provided support for such findings.

Arizona’s defense relies directly on the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld the federal partial birth abortion ban act. In that case, the Supreme Court expressed concern with late-term abortions and their impact on the unborn child and women’s health.

“The current state of scientific knowledge demonstrates that a fetus feels pain beginning as early as sixteen (and quite likely by twenty) weeks gestation and that late-term abortion poses an exponential increase in risk to maternal health,” the petition filed with the Supreme Court explains. “Confronted with this documented evidence, the utter gruesomeness of late-term abortion (however performed), and the threats it posed to the integrity of the medical profession, the State of Arizona determined…to protect the health of the mother and the dignity of the unborn child to be free from excruciating pain by allowing abortions after twenty weeks only when necessary to avert death or serious health risks to the mother.”

“On the basis of these scientific developments,” the petition continues, “the legislatures of thirteen States, including Arizona, as well as one house of the U.S. Congress, have now adopted legislation limiting access to abortion beyond twenty weeks except when necessary to avert death or serious health risks to the mother.”

The petition argues that such developments “provide ample predicate for distinguishing this Court’s prior abortion precedents” and that the high court should accept the case “to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision to the contrary, so as to give due deference to the important legislative judgments of the States in this sensitive and scientifically developing policy area.”

In enacting the five month limit to abortion, the Arizona legislature relied on medical evidence about the capacity of the unborn child to feel pain at five months and on short-term and long-term risks to the woman from late-term abortions. Medical studies have found that the maternal mortality rate from abortion rises significantly after 12 weeks and increases even more after 20 weeks. As one example, a 2004 peer-reviewed medical study showed that the rate of maternal mortality from abortion rises considerably in the second trimester: 14.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 at 13-15 weeks, 29.5 per 100,000 between 16-20 weeks, and 76.6 per 100,000 after 21 weeks.

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