Appeals court ruling allows abortions to resume in Arizona

A woman holds a purple sign that says, "Bans Off Our Bodies"
Celina Washburn protests Sept. 23 outside the Arizona Capitol to voice her dissent against an abortion ruling.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

Abortions can resume in Arizona, at least for now, after an appeals court Friday blocked enforcement of a pre-statehood law that almost entirely criminalized the procedure.

The three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals agreed with Planned Parenthood that a Tucson judge should not have lifted the decades-old order that prevented the older law from being imposed.

The brief order by Presiding Judge Peter J. Eckerstrom said Planned Parenthood and its Arizona affiliate had shown they are likely to prevail on an appeal of the judge’s decision to allow
enforcement of the old law.

The panel said the judge should have considered a host of laws restricting abortion that were passed since the original injunction was put in place following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe vs. Wade, which granted women a constitutional right to abortion.


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Oct. 7, 2022

Those laws include one that took effect last month blocking abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The previous limit was 24 weeks, the viability standard established by now-overruled U.S. Supreme Court cases.

“Arizona courts have a responsibility to attempt to harmonize all of this state’s relevant statutes,” Eckerstrom wrote, mirroring arguments made by attorneys for Planned Parenthood.

The Supreme Court overruled Roe in June; Arizona Atty. Gen. Mark Brnovich, a Republican, then asked that the injunction blocking enforcement of the pre-statehood abortion be lifted. Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson agreed Sept. 23 and lifted the order.

“Today’s decision provides a desperately needed sense of security for both our patients and providers,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “We can now breathe a sigh of relief and serve patients. While the fight isn’t over, for now, Arizonans will once again be able to make their own decisions about their bodies, healthcare decisions and futures.”

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Brnovich’s spokesperson.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has said the 15-week law he signed in March takes precedence, but his lawyers did not seek to argue that position in court.


The new 15-week ban does not repeal the pre-statehood law, and Brnovich and some Republican lawmakers have insisted that the old law takes precedence. It contains an exception if the life of the woman is at risk, but none for incest or other forms of rape.

Providers in Arizona stopped performing abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, but many resumed them in midsummer. That came after a federal judge blocked a separate “personhood” law they worried would allow criminal charges against doctors and nurses. Providers halted again after Johnson’s ruling.

The appeals court said the trial court erred by limiting its analysis to the attorney general’s request to lift the injunction issued after Roe was handed down and refusing to consider later laws passed by the Legislature to regulate abortion.

The appeals court set a hearing for next week to consider whether to set an expedited schedule for Planned Parenthood’s full appeal.

Separately this week, a Phoenix doctor and an abortion rights group sued to block the old law, raising similar arguments that Johnson had rejected. In her ruling, Johnson wrote that while there may be legal questions regarding conflicting laws, they were not properly argued before her.

Some clinics in Arizona have been referring patients to providers in California and New Mexico since Johnson lifted the injunction on the pre-statehood law. That law carries a sentence of two to five years in prison for doctors or anyone else who assists in an abortion. Last year, the Legislature repealed a law allowing charges against women who seek abortions.

One Phoenix clinic has come up with a workaround to allow patients who can use abortion pills to get them delivered to the California-Arizona border for pickup. That cuts the time it takes to get the pills, which are effective for up to 12 weeks of gestation.

Since Roe was overturned, Arizona and 13 other states have banned abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

About 13,000 people in Arizona get an abortion each year, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.