Arizona abortion laws: Politicians react, protests held after old abortion ban was reinstated

Politicians in Arizona, as well as average citizens, are reacting to the latest development in the legality of abortion in Arizona. 

On Sept. 23, a judge in Pima County lifted an injunction that was placed on Arizona's old abortion statute, which bans abortions in almost all cases.

"We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue. I have and will continue to protect the most vulnerable Arizonans," read a portion of a tweet made by Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

According to the ruling, which was posted to the Arizona Attorney General's website, Judge Kellie Johnson ruled that a judgment and injunction signed in 1973 in regards to a law known as ARS 13-3603 "no longer has any prospective application."

"The Court finds that because the legal basis for the judgment entered in 1973 has now been overruled, it must vacate the judgment in its entirety," read a portion of the ruling.

In June, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade abortion ruling, Brnovich stated that his office has "concluded the Arizona Legislature has made its intentions clear regarding abortion laws."

"ARS 13-3603 is back in effect and will not be repealed in 90 days by SB1164," the tweet read, in part.

An appeal of the ruling is likely.

What is ARS 13-3603?

ARS 13-3603 refers to a section of Arizona law that bans abortion in all cases except to save the woman's life.

The section reads:

"The 1901 law is directed at someone who does supply provide or administer those drugs or medicine with the intent to induce a miscarriage, so it’s not directed at the pregnant woman herself," said Emily Ward with law firm Fennemore Craig.

According to the Associated Press, the old law was first enacted as part of the set of laws known as the "Howell Code" adopted by 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1864.

Read More: Abortion now banned in most cases in Arizona, Attorney General says: Here's what to know about ARS 13-3603

What led to the ruling, and what's its impact?

The decision from Johnson came more than a month after she heard arguments on Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift the injunction.

The ruling by Johnson also means people seeking abortions will have to go to another state to obtain one.

The abortion ban is set to take effect on Sept. 24, but so will a 15-week abortion ban that was passed by the legislature. The law passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Doug Ducey in March was enacted in hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court would pare back limits on abortion regulations. It mirrored a Mississippi law that the high court was considering at the time that cut about nine weeks off the previous threshold.

Ducey has argued that the new law he signed takes precedence over ARS 13-3603, but he did not send his attorneys to argue that before Johnson.

"While there may be legal questions the parties seek to resolve regarding Arizona statutes on abortion, those questions are not for this Court to decide here," read a portion of the ruling that was released on Sept. 23.

Legal experts weigh in

On Sept. 24, we spoke with attorney Benjamin Taylor on the legality of abortion in Arizona.

"Right now, in Arizona, abortions are illegal," said Taylor. "A total ban on all abortions throughout our state."

Taylor also talked about the conflicting abortion laws that currently exist in Arizona.

"Right now in Arizona, we have two conflicting laws. We have the law that the legislature has that says abortions are illegal after 15 weeks. You have a judge in Pima county who’s saying that our law should go back to the old archaic law, saying that abortions are banned immediately throughout the state. So eventually the Court of Appeals and the Arizona Supreme Court will have to make the final decision on what the law is," said Taylor.

In an interview on Sept. 23, Jason Lamm weighed in on the harsh penalties that are prescribed under the old abortion ban.

"The safest bet for the providers is not to do anything, and wait for more guidance from the court," said Lamm.

Pro-choice rally organized

On Sept. 24, the day the 15-week abortion ban came into effect amid ongoing confusion over the status of abortion in Arizona, a rally was organized outside the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix.

During the rally, some shared their experience with abortion.

"When I was in college, I had an abortion," said Community Activist Celina Washburn. "I was working a minimum wage job, and I was not ready to become a mom. I could barely afford my rent. So, I had an abortion, and this allowed me to plan my pregnancy, and now, I have this beautiful 7-year-old son."

What are people saying about the ruling?

Pro-choice supporters

"Today’s ruling by the Pima County Superior Court has the practical and deplorable result of sending Arizonans back nearly 150 years," said Brittany Fonteno, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. "No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom and how we live our lives today."

A physician who runs a clinic that provides abortions said she was dismayed but not surprised by the decision.

"It kind of goes with what I’ve been saying for a while now –- it is the intent of the people who run this state that abortion be illegal here," Dr. DeShawn Taylor said. "Of course we want to hold onto hope in the back of our minds, but in the front of my mind I have been preparing the entire time for the total ban."

Two top Democrats running for office in Arizona also spoke out against the state's abortion ban. On Sept. 24, gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs and Attorney General candidate Kris Mayes held a joint news conference to criticize the law, and focused on the lack of exceptions for rape and incest. They called the law dangerous and draconian.

"It will put the health of women at risk in a way we have not seen in my lifetime," said Mayes. "Women will die because of this. It will impact our economy, our ability to attract and retain talent."

Mayes also said if she is elected as Attorney General, she will immediately challenge the law as unconstitutional.

"This law is cruel, life-threatening, and rips away millions of Arizonans' freedoms," said Hobbs.

Family physician Dr. Baharak Tabarsi said this law will affect women without the financial means to travel for the medical care they need.

"I cannot imagine living in a state where my body is now, once again, controlled by my government. These political games will only hurt women, and will permanently alter their lives," said Dr. Tabarsi.

Pro-life supporters

Opponents of abortion also talked about the ruling on Sept. 23. An official with conservative group Center for Arizona Policy released a statement that reads, in part.

"Arizona's abortion law effectively affirms that life is a human right, and should not be sacrificed unless the mother's life is at risk."

"Abortion is the intentional ending of a life," said Dr. Erica Kreller, who said she has never performed an abortion on a patient, and never will. "They want to open the floodgates and make it entirely available to anybody who wants it, at any time, without any oversight, any medical care, anything like that."

We have reached out to the GOP candidate for Attorney General, Abe Hamadeh, and the GOP candidate for governor, Kari Lake, for comment, but they have yet to respond.

More: How will the Maricopa County Attorney prosecute abortions?