Arizona's Top Court Upholds Abortion Ban With Prison Terms

Ruling endorses 1864 law, puts physicians 'on notice'
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2024 2:00 PM CDT
Arizona High Court:1864 Ban on Abortion 'Is Now Enforceable'
Arizona Supreme Court Justices, from left: William G. Montgomery, John R Lopez IV, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer, Chief Justice Robert M. Brutinel, Clint Bolick, and James Beene listen to oral arguments in April 2021 in Phoenix.   (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

A law that went on the books of the Arizona Territory more than 160 years ago prohibiting nearly all abortions and mandating penalties remains valid and "is now enforceable," the State of Arizona's Supreme Court ruled Tuesday. The 4-2 decision stayed enforcement for 14 days to allow a lower court to consider arguments challenging the law's constitutionality. Nevertheless, AZCentral reports, the ruling states that "physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman's life, are illegal ... and that additional criminal and regulatory sanctions may apply to abortions performed after fifteen weeks' gestation."

The law calls for imprisoning anyone who aids in an abortion for two to five years. The decision could shut all clinics in the state that provide abortions. It essentially reverses a lower court ruling that a 15-week ban passed in 2022 trumps the 1864 law, per NBC News. "Life is a human right, and today's decision allows the state to respect that right and fully protect life again—just as the legislature intended," said Jack Warner, who argued the case for the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Supporters of abortion rights attacked the ruling. President Biden called it cruel. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said imposing a law enacted when "the Civil War was raging, and women couldn't even vote, will go down in history as a stain on our state," per the New York Times. Mayes has said she will not enforce any abortion bans, and Gov. Katie Hobbs, also a Democrat, issued an executive order last year giving the attorney general all power to enforce laws governing abortion. But their decisions could be challenged by any county attorney in the state. (An Arizona legislator announced her plan to obtain an abortion on the Senate floor.)

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