Arizona Law Criminalizing Abortions After 20 Weeks Is Upheld

An Arizona law making it a crime for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was upheld by a judge who said the state showed credible evidence an unborn child may feel pain during such procedures.

The law, set to take effect Aug. 2, was challenged by three doctors who said it’s preempted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The doctors sought a court order putting the measure on hold while their lawsuit proceeded. U.S. District Judge James Teilborg in Phoenix said their complaint couldn’t succeed and dismissed the case.

A woman’s right to abortion isn’t unlimited, Teilborg said, and states’ interest in the lives of unborn children may have “sufficient force so that the right of the woman to terminate the pregnancy can be restricted.”

Arizona’s legislature said it sought to prevent abortions that caused pain to unborn children during the procedure as one purpose of the law, Teilborg said in his ruling today.

The state presented “uncontradicted and credible evidence” that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least 20 weeks gestational age, said Teilborg, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

‘Legal Precedent’

“Today’s decision casts aside decades of legal precedent, ignoring constitutional protections for reproductive rights that have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court for nearly 40 years and threatening women’s health and lives,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an e-mail. The group represented the doctors and plans to file an emergency appeal in a federal appeals court in San Francisco to prevent the law from taking effect, according to the e-mail.

Signed by Governor Jan Brewer in April, the law makes it a misdemeanor, punishable by as long as six months in jail, to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in a medical emergencies to prevent death or “irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

The statute is the most extreme abortion ban in the nation, said the American Civil Liberties Union, which is also representing the doctors.

The physicians claim no fetus is viable at 20 weeks, and that under Roe v. Wade and other cases, women have the right to terminate pregnancies before viability.

William Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney, which includes Phoenix, said enforcement of the law with its exception for medical emergencies is permitted by Roe v. Wade.

The case is Isaacson v. Horne, 12-01501, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).

To contact the reporter on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at

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