Court: Abortion doctors can’t be charged under Arizona law | World News
PHOENIX (AP) — An Arizona court has ruled that abortion doctors cannot be prosecuted under a pre-statehood statute that criminalizes nearly all abortions but was barred from enforcement for decades.
But the Arizona Court of Appeals on Friday declined to overturn the 1864 law, which provides a two to five-year prison sentence for anyone who assists with an abortion and makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
Still, the court said doctors cannot be prosecuted for performing abortions because other Arizona laws passed over the years allow them to perform the procedure, although non-physicians still need to be charged under the old law.
“The statutes, read together, clarify that physicians are permitted to perform abortions as provided in other abortion statutes,” the appeals court wrote.
The state law, which only allows abortions when a patient’s life is in danger, was blocked from enforcement shortly after the US Supreme Court’s 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing women a constitutional right to an abortion.
But after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision in June, Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked a state judge to allow the law to be implemented.
The Arizona Court of Appeals said it did not view the statehood law in isolation from other state abortion laws, stating that “the legislature created a complex regulatory system to achieve its intent to limit, but not eliminate, voluntary abortion.” ”
In a statement, Brittany Fonteno, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the decision means a state law limiting abortions to 15 weeks after the onset of pregnancy will remain in effect.
“Let me be clear that today is a good day,” Fonteno said. “The Arizona Court of Appeals has given us the clarity Planned Parenthood Arizona has been seeking for months: When performed by licensed physicians in accordance with other Arizona laws and regulations, abortion remains legal for up to 15 weeks.”
The appeals court dismissed Brnovich’s contention that doctors could be prosecuted under the state law, saying the attorney general’s reasoning ignores the legislature’s intent to regulate, but not abolish, abortion and violates due process by allowing arbitrary enforcement promoted.
“Brnovich’s interpretation would not only invite arbitrary foreclosure, it would practically encourage it,” the appeals court wrote.
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision, which was released late Friday afternoon.
Abortion providers halted the state’s practice after Roe was struck down, and resumed in mid-July after a “personality” law giving unborn children legal rights was blocked by a court, halting them again, when a judge in Tucson allowed the 1864 law to be enforced.
Planned Parenthood Arizona, the state’s largest abortion provider, resumed statewide abortion services after Brnovich’s office agreed in another lawsuit not to enforce the old law until at least next year.
A Phoenix doctor who runs a clinic that offers abortions and the Arizona Medical Association had also filed a separate lawsuit aimed at blocking the Territory-era law, arguing that laws passed by the Legislature after the Roe decision should take precedence and abortions should be allowed up to 15 weeks into a pregnancy.
Brnovich attempted to put that lawsuit on hold until the Court of Appeals ruled the Planned Parenthood case. In an agreement with the abortion doctor and the medical association, he said he would enforce the old law at the earliest 45 days after a final decision in the initial case.
A law passed by the Legislature this year limits abortions to 15 weeks from the onset of a pregnancy, well ahead of the 24 weeks generally permitted under the Roe decision, overturned by the US Supreme Court in June.
After the Roe decision was overturned and the issue of abortion left to states, bans went into effect in some states.
Abortion is illegal at all stages of pregnancy in 13 states with various exceptions: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Bans in Arizona, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming are also not in effect, at least for now, as courts decide whether they can be enforced.