Federal judge blocks Arizona’s personhood law that recognizes life begins at conception

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A federal judge on July 11 temporarily blocked Arizona’s personhood law that recognizes human life begins at conception, preventing it from being used to take legal action against abortion providers.

The legal drama came as states across the nation including Arizona are trying to adjust in light of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision that there is no right to an abortion to be found in the U.S. Constitution, sending the regulation of abortion back to the states to work out for themselves.

Attorney Jessica Sklarsky, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights who argued the case, told The Associated Press that the federal district court “made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban.”

“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.”

Brittni Thomason, a spokesperson for the office of Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, said the state is centered on “bringing clarity to the law for Arizonans.”

“Today’s ruling was based on an interpretation of Arizona law that our office did not agree with, and we are carefully considering our next steps,” she told the media outlet.

Abortion providers reportedly stopped performing the procedure in Arizona after the high court spoke, fearing that a 1901 state law banning all abortions could place them in legal jeopardy. That law is currently blocked in Pima County, the state’s second-most populous county where Tucson is located.

Same Constitutional Rights

The Arizona law at issue, enacted in April 2021, is not specifically about abortion. The personhood statute declared that the laws of the state “shall be interpreted” to protect unborn children “at every stage of the development,” acknowledging that they possess all the same constitutional rights as human beings who have been born. The Arizona law is similar to laws in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and Missouri.

The Arizona statute does not cover individuals who perform in vitro fertilizations and women who indirectly harm their unborn children by not taking proper care of themselves.

The same federal judge refused to put the personhood law on pause last year, but abortion groups reapplied for an injunction after the Supreme Court ruled.

Arizona argued the state should be allowed to enforce the law. In a brief filed with the federal district court July 1, the state argued the proposed injunction should be denied because the challengers had not demonstrated they will suffer irreparable harm from enforcement of the statute, adding that the court had previously concluded that the “vagueness challenge” brought by the plaintiffs “fails as a matter of law,” and that therefore their rights had not been violated.

Challengers said the law was overly vague. How the statute might be applied “is anyone’s guess,” the abortion providers said in court. They argued the statute burdens the rights of women to terminate pregnancies before fetal viability, at least as those rights stood before the Supreme Court ruling, and abridged the freedom of speech between doctor and patient.

In his order (pdf), U.S. District Judge Douglas L. Rayes, an Obama appointee, wrote that even though the case came “in the context of abortion care, it is not about abortion per se.”

“It is about giving people fair notice of what the law means so that they know in advance how to comply,” Rayes wrote. The law is vague and makes it impossible for the medical doctors challenging it to do their work, the judge added. The court declined to express a view at this time “on whether a law defining ‘person’ to include the unborn for all purposes and without exception would be constitutional.”

The lawsuit, Isaacson v. Brnovich, is still before the U.S. District Court in Arizona.

Rayes issued a preliminary injunction that prevents the state from enforcing the law “as applied to abortion care that is otherwise permissible under Arizona law” while the case remains pending. The state was also enjoined from retroactively enforcing the law “against those who performed otherwise lawful abortions during the time that this preliminary injunction is in effect.”

This article by Matthew Vadum appeared July 12, 2022, in The Epoch Times.

Photo: Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R)