On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s decision to block a 20-week abortion ban from taking effect in Arizona. That decision ensures that the law will remain permanently blocked, and women in the state will continue being able to access abortion care until the point of viability as defined under Roe v. Wade, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
“This ensures that no Arizona women’s lives or health are harmed by this callous and unconstitutional law,” Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. Northrup’s organization partnered with the ACLU to file suit against Arizona’s abortion ban in 2012.
These type of later abortion restrictions have become somewhat of a flashpoint in the debate over reproductive rights. Nine states have enacted laws banning abortion procedures after 20 weeks, typically based on the junk science that fetuses can experience pain after that point. The House passed a national 20-week ban over the summer, and a companion measure was introduced in the Senate in November. Arizona’s law, however, is even more stringent than many of the other 20-week bans that have passed at a state level. It defines gestation in a different way than the other bans, cutting off abortion access two weeks earlier — as much as a full month before Roe v. Wade’s deadline. Doctors violating the law could have been sent to jail.
The anti-choice community understands that 20-week bans violate Roe v. Wade, and is ultimately hoping to provoke a Supreme Court challenge that ends up narrowing the window during which women may access abortion services. So far, though, the nation’s highest court has been reluctant to weigh in on the issue. The justices didn’t explain their reasoning for deciding not to take up the case in Arizona — but they likely simply aren’t interested in overruling the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s earlier decision.
Women’s health advocates celebrated the news, but warned that attacks on reproductive rights are still advancing in other states across the country. Later this week, the Supreme Court will take up oral arguments in another abortion-related case. The justices appear to be poised to strike down buffer zones around abortion clinics, which would give anti-abortion harassers unlimited access to the patients and staff trying to enter and exit those clinics. A challenge to Obamacare’s contraception mandate also threatens to limit access to affordable birth control for women whose bosses object to covering it.
“Today the Court did the right thing, but women’s health is still on the docket — not only at the Supreme Court, but in active cases all across the country,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, noted in a statement.
“Women should not be forced to run to court, year after year, in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights and access to critical health care,” the Center for Reproductive Right’s Northrup added. “Our fundamental rights are not up for debate and cannot be legislated away by politicians who are hell bent on restricting access to the full range of reproductive health care.”