Judge blocks Arizona 'personhood' law aimed at criminalizing abortion

Judge blocks Arizona 'personhood' law aimed at criminalizing abortion
Abortion rights activists in St. Paul, Minnesota in 2019, Lorie Shaull
Frontpage news and politics

A federal judge on Monday barred enforcement of a so-called "personhood" law in Arizona that advocacy groups warned would be used to criminalize abortion across the state.

The Center for Reproductive Rights—part of the coalition that demanded and obtained the injunction—noted in a press release that the 2021 law crafted by Republican legislators "classifies fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs as 'people' starting at the point of conception."

"The vague provision placed both providers and pregnant people at risk of arbitrary prosecution," the group said. "Amid the uncertainty surrounding the interpretation and application of the personhood law, Arizona abortion clinics in the state have suspended abortion services. Arizona's personhood law is one of several conflicting laws on the books, including a pre-Roe ban, adding to the confusion on whether abortion providers can resume services."

Judge Douglas Rayes of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona expressed agreement Monday with the reproductive rights coalition's argument that the 2021 statute is overly and unlawfully vague. Arizona officials have conceded in legal filings that it's "anyone's guess" what the law's impacts would be across the state.

"When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law," Rayes wrote in his decision Monday.

Victoria López, director of program and strategy with the ACLU of Arizona, said that in response to the ruling that "while we're glad that the court has blocked it and that prosecutors can't use this to go after pregnant people or providers, the fight for abortion access continues."

"Arizona's personhood provision was crafted recklessly by extremist lawmakers in their harmful quest to eradicate abortion access in the state," said López. "Over 80% of Arizona voters want abortion to remain legal—and we'll continue to fight for that freedom."

The judge's decision came as pregnant people and healthcare providers in Arizona are also bracing for the looming activation of a 15-week abortion ban that Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law in March.

Additionally, Arizona's GOP attorney general has argued that thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last month in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, a total abortion ban that's been on the books since 1901—before Arizona was a state—is now enforceable.

"The Supreme Court's catastrophic decision overturning Roe v. Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need," said Jessica Sklarsky, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "People should not have to live in a state of fear when accessing or providing essential healthcare. We will continue our fight to preserve abortion access in Arizona and across the country."

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