A federal judge in Phoenix on Monday blocked a 2021 state “personhood” law that gives all legal rights to unborn children and that abortion rights groups said put providers at risk of prosecution for a variety of crimes.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes said in his written ruling that the groups that sued to block the law are right – it is “anyone’s guess,” as the state acknowledged, what criminal laws abortion providers may be breaking if they perform otherwise-legal abortions.
“And that is the problem,” Rayes wrote. “When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, Plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law.”
It is unclear if abortions that have been halted in Arizona since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that women do not have a constitutional right to abortion would restart. Abortion providers stopped virtually all procedures because a pre-1901 banning all abortions that may be in effect and other laws created too much risk.
At least in Pima County, where the 1901 law remains blocked, they could be legal, although Attorney General Mark Brnovich plans to ask a court to lift that order and allow enforcement.
Rayes had refused to block the personhood law last year, but abortion rights groups renew their request after Roe v. Wade was struck down.
They argued that providers fear they could be charged with child abuse, assault or a litany of other crimes, and that the law was unconstitutionally vague.
The attorney general’s office told the judge that the personhood law created no new criminal laws, but admitted in their court filings that prosecutors and courts could have a different view.
Abortion rights groups hailed the ruling, which is almost certain to be appealed.
“The Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision overturning Roe v. Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need. People should not have to live in a state of fear when accessing or providing essential healthcare. We will continue our fight to preserve abortion access in Arizona and across the country.”