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Arizona Law Criminalizing Some Abortions Blocked for Now

An Arizona law that makes it a crime for doctors to perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was blocked from taking effect today by the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco while a lower-court order is appealed.

The appeals court ruled on a so-called emergency request to halt the law from three doctors who lost a lawsuit alleging the rule was preempted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. A federal judge in Phoenix upheld the statute July 30, ruling that Arizona showed credible evidence that an unborn child may feel pain during such procedures.

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 “court’s decision to grant an injunction is disappointing but not entirely unexpected,” Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, said yesterday in an e-mail. “The court has not yet ruled on the merits of this case and, when it does, Governor Brewer is confident it will uphold this law.”

The appeals court didn’t give a reason for its decision.

The statute is the most extreme abortion restriction in the nation, said the American Civil Liberties Union, which is 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.

‘Dangerous Ban’

“We are relieved that the court blocked this dangerous ban and that women in Arizona will continue to be able to get safe, appropriate medical care,” Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, an ACLU lawyer, said in an e-mailed statement. “Abortion is a serious, personal decision that should be made by a woman, her family and her doctor -- not by politicians.”

The injunction issued yesterday will remain in effect while the court considers the doctors’ appeal of the lower-court decision, a process that’s likely to take several months, said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in an e-mail.

The case is Isaacson v. Horne, 12-16670, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

To contact the reporters on this story: Karen Gullo in San Francisco at; Andrew Harris in Chicago at

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

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