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07.12.12 - (PRESS RELEASE) The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have launched a landmark legal challenge to Arizona’s flatly unconstitutional ban on abortion—which bans the procedure at 20 weeks from a woman’s last menstrual period (LMP), earlier than similar laws recently enacted in the country and at a critical time when most women undergo prenatal testing to evaluate their own health and the status of the pregnancy.
The measure, which was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 12 and is scheduled to go into effect August 2, makes zero exceptions for a pregnant woman’s life or health unless she is experiencing a dire and possibly life-threatening emergency.
Today’s lawsuit, Paul A. Isaacson, M.D v. Tom Horne, Attorney General of Arizona, was filed in the U.S. District Court of Arizona on behalf of physicians who perform abortions and serve women with high-risk pregnancies—arguing that the Arizona law violates the U.S. Constitution by banning pre-viability abortions.
“We have taken action today to stop a law whose hostility toward women’s health and fundamental rights is so extreme that it will risk their very lives,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This law in Arizona displays a callous disregard for the complicated and very difficult circumstances many pregnant women face—and yet proponents of the law have the audacity to claim that it is designed to protect women.”
“Just this week, we are fighting in two federal courts in Arizona and Mississippi to block extremely hostile anti-choice laws from going into effect and placing women’s lives at risk. But women should not have to be in court every week, in every state, simply to defend their fundamental constitutional rights. With this lawsuit, we are fighting to ensure that politicians cannot deprive women of their right to make these deeply personal choices on their own, and without government interference.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that states cannot ban abortion before viability. The Court has also found that any restrictions on abortion must include an exception for when an abortion is “necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health” of a woman.
The law, which would be clearly unconstitutional even with a broad health exception, only permits a woman to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks LMP if she is experiencing a medical emergency, narrowly defined as a “condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”
This narrow exception would have severe consequences for women’s health, and could lead to women being denied critical treatment or forced to dangerously delay medical care. For example, a pregnant woman with a condition that may lead to serious infection could be forced to wait until her condition is clearly dangerous and severely threatens her fertility in the future. Similarly, some women at risk of grave complications will be forced to decide whether to proceed with their pregnancies in the dark, before they have all the information they need to arrive at their choices—all because they are facing the arbitrary cutoff for termination imposed by the law.
The Arizona law also imposes criminal and civil penalties on physicians found to violate the law, including jail time, civil liability, and revocation of their medical licenses.
“When state legislatures attempt to practice medicine, they get it wrong and women pay the price,” said Janet Crepps, senior staff attorney at the Center. “By imposing criminal penalties, coupled with extremely narrow health exceptions, this law requires physicians to endanger the lives and health of their patients.”
The Center is representing Paul A. Isaacson, M.D., with Janet Crepps as lead counsel and co-counsel Janie Schulman and Nancy Thomas of Morrison & Foerster LLP and Chris LaVoy of Ridenour, Hienton & Lewis, PLLC. The ACLU represents two additional Arizona women’s reproductive health specialists, with Talcott Camp as lead counsel and the ACLU of Arizona serving as co-counsel.