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Arizona judge says the state can enforce near-total abortion ban

A Pima County superior court judge says Arizona can once again enforce its near-total ban on abortions that makes exceptions only to save the life of the mother.

Arizona's law banning most abortions dates back to the 1860s, decades before Arizona became a state. But enforcement had been blocked since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

The ruling means the state's abortions clinics will have to shut down and anyone seeking an abortion will have to go out of state. The ruling takes effect immediately, although an appeal is possible. Planned Parenthood and two other large providers said they were halting abortions.

Hear Katherine Davis-Young discuss the ruling with host Lauren Gilger on The Show

abortion-ruling-debrief-show-kdy-lg-20220926.mp3

Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick is an abortion provider in Phoenix. She told KJZZ News she was shocked the judge ruled to allow the ban to go back into effect.

“Women of means might be able to leave the state and get the care they need, but the majority of our patients are low socioeconomic status, that might not have the means to leave the state and are going to be forced into motherhood because of politicians playing games with women’s lives,” Goodrick said. “Women are second-class citizens now in the state of Arizona.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich had been seeking to the enforce the ban since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer.

“We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue,” Brnovich said in a statement. “I have and will continue to protect the most vulnerable Arizonans.”

In court, lawyers for Planned Parenthood had argued that the judge needed to consider all of the laws related to abortion that Arizona has passed since Roe. But  in her ruling, judge Kellie Johnson said reconciling nearly 50 years of legislation was not for the court to decide. 

As of Friday evening, Planned Parenthood's lawyers had not announced whether they plan to appeal appeal the ruling.

In a statement Brittany Fonteno, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona said, “this is not the end of the fight, this harmful ban has no place in Arizona and we will persist until that is achieved.”

Republicans quiet as Arizona Democrats condemn abortion ruling

The ruling comes amid an election season in which Democrats have seized on abortion rights as a potent issue. Sen. Mark Kelly, under a challenge from Republican Blake Masters, said it “will have a devastating impact on the freedom Arizona women have had for decades” to choose an abortion. Democrat Katie Hobbs, who is running for governor, called it the product of a decadeslong attack on reproductive freedom by Republicans that can only be fended off by voters in November.

Masters and Kari Lake, the Republican running against Hobbs, both back abortion restrictions. Their campaigns had no immediate comment.

Republicans control the Legislature, and GOP Gov. Doug Ducey is an abortion opponent who has signed every abortion law that reached his desk for the past eight years.

Johnson, the judge, said Planned Parenthood was free to file a new challenge. But with Arizona's tough abortion laws and all seven Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans, the chances of success appear slim.

The ruling came a day before a new Arizona law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy takes effect. Signed by Ducey in March, the law was enacted in hopes that the Supreme Court would pare back limits on abortion regulations. Instead, it overturned Roe.

Ducey has argued that the new law he signed takes precedence over the pre-statehood law, but he did not send his attorneys to argue that before Johnson.

The old law was first enacted among a set of laws known as the “Howell Code” adopted by 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1864. Arizona clinics have been performing about 13,000 abortions a year.

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent. She has produced work for NPR, New England Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio, PRI's The World, Washington Post, Reuters and more.She has a master’s degree in radio journalism from the USC Annenberg School of Journalism.She lives in central Phoenix with her husband, two daughters, and ill-behaved cat and dog. Her side-passions include photography, crosswords and hot sauce.