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Arizona Supreme Court Upholds Law Punishing Abortionists As Unlimited Abortion Ballot Battle Rages

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The Arizona Supreme Court upheld a law on Tuesday that imposes imprisonment of up to five years on anyone who executes a surgical or chemical abortion in the state, except to save the life of the child’s mother.

The law, first enacted in 1864, effectively outlaws abortion beginning at conception except to save the mother. It was put on hold after the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling but became the center of attention again shortly after Dobbs v. Jackson.

The same year the Supreme Court issued its landmark decision tossing Roe, the Arizona legislature and then-Gov. Doug Ducey worked together to pass a law allowing abortions up to 15 weeks gestation but noted it would not supersede the previous law.

The Arizona Court of Appeals claimed in a ruling later that year that, despite both laws’ strict limits on abortion, a “harmonized” version allowed for abortion through 15 weeks “when provided by licensed physicians in compliance with the state’s other laws and regulations.”

The Arizona Supreme Court, however, found on Tuesday that “the legislature has demonstrated its consistent design to restrict elective abortion to the degree permitted by the Supremacy Clause and an unwavering intent since 1864 to proscribe elective abortions absent a federal constitutional right—precisely what it intended and accomplished.”

“To date, our legislature has never affirmatively created a right to, or independently authorized, elective abortion. We defer, as we are constitutionally obligated to do, to the legislature’s judgment, which is accountable to, and thus reflects, the mutable will of our citizens,” the court’s opinion states.

Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, the obstetrician and medical director of Choices Pregnancy Center in Arizona who petitioned the Supreme Court over the law, celebrated the ruling as a win for the “lives of countless, innocent unborn children.”

“Life is a human right, and today’s decision allows the state to respect that right and fully protect life again—just as the legislature intended,” ADF Senior Counsel Jake Warner said in a statement. “Life begins at conception. At just six weeks, unborn babies’ hearts begin to beat. At eight weeks, they have fingers and toes. And at 10 weeks, their unique fingerprints begin to form. Arizona’s pro-life law has protected unborn children for over 100 years, and the people of Arizona, through their elected representatives, have repeatedly affirmed that law, including as recently as 2022.”

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes claimed she would refuse to enforce it on any “woman or doctor,” but Warner said county prosecutors could. Tuesday’s decision is a decisive victory for the pro-life movement, but the fight over abortion in Arizona isn’t over.

Not only do abortion giants in the Grand Canyon State have 14 days until the ruling becomes enforceable to sue over the law, but abortion activists are leading a ballot initiative that, if passed November 5, would effectively enshrine unlimited abortion through all nine months of pregnancy in the state constitution. Already, Arizona for Abortion Access reported it received at least 100,000 ballot signatures more than the verified 383,923 required by the July 2024 deadline.

The proposed amendment, which will likely be on the ballot in the next election, uses vague language and undefined terms that allow for on-demand abortions for anyone subjectively deemed at risk by a medical professional. It would also bar the state from punishing abortionists, like the recently upheld law requires, and “opens the door to taxpayer funding of abortion.”

“We’re hopeful that this decision encourages voters to affirm life,” Warner when asked about the ballot initiative during a Tuesday press conference.

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