PHOENIX (AP) — A new Arizona law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy takes effect Saturday as a judge considers a request to allow enforcement of a pre-state law that bans virtually all abortions.
The 15-week law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey in March was passed in hopes that the US Supreme Court would loosen restrictions on abortion regulations. It mirrors a Mississippi law then under review by the high court that cut about nine weeks from the previous threshold.
Instead, conservative justices hold the majority of courts completely overruled by Roe v. Wade, a 1973 law that gave women a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. States are now allowed to make all abortions illegal, and a dozen have already done so, while others have introduced new restrictions.
Opponents of abortion celebrated the lifting of the 15-week ban. Ducey, who signed every abortion restriction bill that crossed his desk during his eight years in office, also supported the 15-week ban.
“In Arizona, we know that every life, including life before birth, has immeasurable value,” Ducey said in his March 30 signed letter. “I believe that every state is obliged to protect them.”
On the same day he signed the abortion ban, Ducey also signed the ban into law transgender women and girls from playing on women’s sports teams. It also goes into effect on Saturday, along with most other laws passed this year.
Abortion providers, meanwhile, are awaiting a decision from a judge in Tucson who is considering Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift an injunction imposed immediately after Roe was ruled to have blocked the law from reaching statehood.
Judge Kelly Johnson said during a hearing last month that she would not rule until Sept. 20. Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate have urged her not to allow the old law to apply to health care providers and instead allow a number of other abortion restrictions passed after Roe was overturned.
Dushi has a similar view. He argued that the 15-week ban he signed took precedence over the older law, which was first enacted as part of a body of legislation known as the “Howell Code” passed by Arizona’s first territorial legislature in 1864.
Despite the conflict with Brnovich over whether the new or old laws take precedence, Ducey did not send his staff lawyers to defend his position at the Aug. 19 hearing.
According to statistics from three previous annual reports compiled by the Arizona Department of Health, the 15-week law would affect only about 5% of abortions performed in the state. During this time, the country averaged just under 13,000 abortions per year.
But combined with a law passed last year that prohibits abortions because the fetus has genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome, the limitations are compounded, said Dr. DeShawn Taylor, who provides abortion services at her clinic in Glendale.
“People forget that these percentages are real people,” Taylor said in an interview Tuesday. “Arizona’s population continues to grow … and that 5-10% is a large number of people who would otherwise have to either stay pregnant or find a way to get out of state to get the care they need.”
Taylor is an obstetrician-gynecologist who runs Desert Star Family Planning, where it provides a full range of reproductive health care and is one of the few clinics that offers second-trimester abortions. Like virtually all abortion providers in the state, it stopped providing both surgical and medical abortions after the Supreme Court struck down Roe.
Providers pointed to a law that existed before statehood and a “personhood” law banning abortions for genetic reasons, which they feared could lead to lawsuits over the closure. But after a a federal judge blocked that provision on July 11 because he said it was unconstitutionally vague, Taylor and other providers restarted services.
But it was difficult because her staff still feared prosecution, she said. Taylor said the longtime nurse resigned before Roe was overturned because she was worried about the future decision.
Her medical assistant also left, and another nurse who had assisted with abortions for three years was initially reluctant to resume procedures due to unfounded fears that she might face criminal charges.
“It took a while to convince this person that I didn’t want to go to jail either,” Taylor said. “Why would I do something illegal and ask her to do the same?”
Eventually, the nurse agreed to help, but only with non-surgical abortions, Taylor said.
On Monday, Taylor said she had a final pre-abortion consultation because she expected a decision could be made on Tuesday. Arizona requires an ultrasound and consultation at least a day before an abortion, and she didn’t want patients to cancel the procedure.
After a tumultuous summer, Taylor said Friday that she has closed her clinic by the end of the month.