Arizona Court Interprets State’s Post-Roe Abortion Restrictions

A ruling from an Arizona state appeals court issued Friday provided a legal interpretation of the state’s abortion laws after the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last June to overturn Roe v. Wade. The Dobbs decision declared there is no nationwide Constitutional right to abortion and returned the power to regulate or prohibit abortions to each state individually.

The new ruling does not repeal the abortion law enacted in 1864 when Arizona was still a territory. Instead, it upholds that abortion ban and adds in the 15-week abortion ban approved by Gov. Doug Ducey (R) last year.

The court wrote in the ruling that the “original statute outlawing most abortions itself contains an exception permitting abortions when necessary to save the life of the mother.” It goes on to find that “Arizona’s more specific subsequent laws, including the most recent 15-week law, may be read in harmony with that provision by understanding them as merely adding further exceptions to the general prohibition on abortion.”

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) had filed briefs asking the courts to enforce the territory-era 19th Century law. A state judge in Pima County reinstated the older law in light of the Dobbs case last September. An injunction had blocked the enforcement of that law since 1973 when the Supreme Court decided the Roe case.

The 1864 law bans all abortions in Arizona, with the only exception being situations where a mother’s life is in danger.

The potential conflict between the older law and the new 15-week ban had created confusion for Arizona medical practitioners, lawyers, lawmakers, and judges. Before Friday’s ruling, there were several competing legal theories about what statutes applied and how they might conflict or work together.

Planned Parenthood resumed providing abortion procedures in Arizona last October, claiming they had been given legal advice that they were not restricted from doing so. In a press conference, Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Brittany Fonterno said, “Abortion is temporarily legal in Arizona. This does not mean the fight is over. This means we are continuing to fight every day.”

Arizona Attorney General-elect Kris Mayes (D) has said she would not prosecute abortion providers, notwithstanding the enactment of the new 15-week ban.