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Arizona Supreme Court upholds law protecting nearly all unborn babies

Arizona Supreme Court Justices listening to oral arguments in April 2021. Associated Press/Photo by Matt York, file

Arizona Supreme Court upholds law protecting nearly all unborn babies

The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law protecting almost all unborn babies. Justice John Lopez authored the majority opinion of the court, in which the court ruled that a pro-life Arizona law from 1864 was enforceable. The law prevents any person from assisting a woman in obtaining an abortion unless the abortion is required to save the mother’s life. It entails a minimum sentence of 2-5 years in prison. Planned Parenthood of Arizona had argued that the older law could not be enforced because it conflicted with a newer law that protects unborn babies after 15 weeks.

What are the details of the Supreme Court’s decision? The Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the statutes did not sufficiently contradict each other and that they could be interpreted as partially redundant.

“Physicians are now on notice that all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” Lopez wrote. He added that additional criminal and regulatory sanctions could apply in cases of abortions performed after fifteen weeks of gestation.

What happens next? The court temporarily restricted the older law from going into effect for 14 calendar days to give the two parties in the case time to review its decision and address other matters related to the case at the trial court level. It also ordered that the statute not be applied retroactively but only in the future.

How did this case come before the court? According to the Arizona Supreme Court ruling, the legal case was brought with decades’ worth of background. Even before it became a state in 1912, Arizona law protected nearly all babies from abortion. But in 1971, Tuscon’s Planned Parenthood facility first challenged the law, which then protected nearly all unborn babies from abortion. It cited the state and federal constitutions as the grounds for the lawsuit. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade, conferring a Constitutional right to abortion.

An Arizona Appeals Court then ruled that the then-current Arizona law protecting unborn babies was unconstitutional. Instead of voiding the law, the state legislature recodified it under a different section number. Then, between 1973 and 2022, the Arizona legislature added dozens of pro-life statutes under Roe. For instance, one law sought to protect unborn babies only after 15 weeks of gestation.

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade with its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, eliminating the constitutional right to obtain an abortion. The Arizona Attorney General asked a state trial court to allow the 1863 law to go into effect. Planned Parenthood of Arizona opposed that request, saying that there was a conflict between its language and the language of newer laws. Planned Parenthood alleged that the fact that Sec. 36-2322 prohibited abortions only after 15 weeks gestation meant it permitted any abortions on unborn babies under that gestational age, which contradicted the language of the older Sec. 13-3603. The district court sided with the attorney general, but then an appeals court sided with Planned Parenthood. The case then arrived before the state’s supreme court.

Dig deeper: Read R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s column in WORLD Opinions about how former President Donald Trump fumbled the issue of abortion badly in a recent policy statement.

Josh Schumacher

Josh is a breaking news reporter for WORLD. He’s a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College.

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