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AZ abortion ban is not in effect yet, attorney general tells hospitals

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes is reminding hospitals in the state that they can continue providing abortions for the time being, in spite of the recent state Supreme Court ruling putting a near-total abortion ban back into effect. 

In a  letter to hospitals and medical providers this week, Mayes laid out legal arguments for why she believes Arizona’s 1864 near-total abortion ban  cannot take effect until June 8 or later. 

When the state Supreme Court last week ruled Arizona should follow the near-total ban, it delayed enforcement of the law for two weeks while parties in the case cleared up remaining legal issues. But another Superior Court order from a separate abortion case had previously set a 45-day delay for enforcement. Mayes adds the 14-day and 45-day delays together to arrive at the June 8 enforcement date. 

She said she would notify medical providers if the enforcement date changes. In the meantime, Mayes said, doctors can continue following Arizona’s 2022 abortion law, which allows abortions until the 15th week of pregnancy. 

She added that her office advises the Arizona Medical Board, the Arizona State Board of Nursing, and other licensing authorities. She said none of those agencies can legally take disciplinary or licensing action against abortion providers based on the 1864 law, for now.

Mayes, a Democrat, has been outspoken about her opposition to the near-total ban, saying she will never prosecute anyone under that law. But in her letter she acknowledged the law, known as Arizona Revised Statute 13-3603, would create a serious dilemma for providers, especially in the context of medical emergencies.

"If 13-3603 is allowed to go into effect, my office will issue guidance in advance of that date. That guidance would seek to assist providers in complying with the law while recognizing the inherent challenges in construing such an archaic and vaguely written statute," Mayes wrote. 

Mayes wrote that she expects legal challenges to the constitutionality of the 1864 near-total abortion ban will arise in coming weeks. She again blamed Republicans in the state legislature for delaying a repeal of the law.

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.