By David M. Greenwald
Arizona – Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson is allowing a 1901 ban on nearly all abortions in the state, granting a request from the state’s Republican attorney general to lift a court injunction that had barred enforcement of Arizona law that predates statehood.
“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,” Johnson wrote in the ruling released Friday.
“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,” Johnson wrote in the decision.
In a statement, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover said in a statement, “We are obviously very disappointed. We were hoping for a different result, and we will be looking at available legal remedies. Having a near complete ban on abortion procedures puts people at risk.”
Conover continued, “The World Health Organization has found that banning or severely restricting access to abortions does little to deter actual abortion rates. Rather, it forces pregnant people to seek care from unskilled providers or perform the procedure themselves.”
She added, “The result of this is 47,000 women dying each year and some 5 million more suffering long-term health consequences globally. Additionally, the near total ban provides no consideration for victims of rape and incest, making society more vulnerable to these violent crimes.”
Conover concluded, “My priorities as Pima County Attorney are public safety and public health. I join our Sheriff and our Tucson Police Chief in reassuring the residents of Pima County of those priorities.”
Meanwhile the ruling takes on implications for the Maricopa County Attorney’s race where the appointed incumbent, Rachel Mitchell, has indicated she will enforce it.
This abortion ban isn’t justice.
This abortion ban will kill Arizonans.
I’m calling on @Rachel1Mitchell to reverse her stance on enforcing it.#NotNowNotEver pic.twitter.com/XxkBOxZ7tw
— Julie Gunnigle (@JulieGunnigle) September 24, 2022
Julie Gunnigle, running in a special election, said, “Let me stop all the hot takes and pundits who want to tweet right now about ‘how this decision helps Democrats in the midterms.’” She said, “People will die because of this ruling.”
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Katie Hobbs said she was “outraged and devastated” by the decision.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this draconian 1901 law will have dire consequences on the health and well-being of Arizona women and their families,” Hobbs said in a statement. “This cruel law effectively outlaws abortion in Arizona — with no exceptions for rape or incest — and risks women’s fundamental freedom to make their own health care decisions. … To make matters worse, this law mandates jail time for abortion providers. Medical professionals will now be forced to think twice and call their lawyer before providing patients with oftentimes necessary, lifesaving care.”
Democratic Representatives Athena Salman and Melody Hernandez spoke out strongly in statements on Friday.
Salman has led the House Democratic caucus fight against abortion restrictions for the past six years, introducing legislation to repeal the territorial-era ban in multiple sessions.
“When someone decides to have an abortion, it should be safe, affordable, and free from punishment and judgment. This ruling does the opposite,” Representative Salman said. “By rolling back the clock almost 160 years the radical right has taken Arizona backwards. Any pregnant person and their doctors will live under threat of prosecution for seeking or providing any medical care that results in an early termination of a pregnancy. This violates what the vast majority of Arizonans want. For years I have introduced legislation to repeal this antiquated law, only to have the bill shelved by the extremists controlling the legislature. We deserve better.”
Representative Hernandez has shared her abortion story in legislative testimony against restrictions on reproductive healthcare. As a paramedic, she has also spent time over the past two weeks volunteering with an abortion provider, assisting in what may be some of the last legal abortions in Arizona for the immediate future.
“Criminalizing abortion puts the life and freedom of every pregnant person at risk,” Hernandez said. “But we know who this ruling will impact most severely—people of color, underserved communities and those who aren’t wealthy. Volunteering to help women seeking abortions this week, I saw people from all different age groups, teens up to early 50s, all backgrounds, people who had not easily made this intimate and deeply personal decision. When the procedures were over, I saw relief, like a weight lifted and they had their life back. Criminalizing healthcare is just wrong, and Arizona will not stand for it.”
“Today’s ruling is a devastating decision and marks a dark day in Arizona’s history. No one should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will. By allowing this archaic law to go into effect, Arizona has put the lives of pregnant people at risk and will send doctors to prison for doing what’s best for their patient,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director for the ACLU of Arizona. “Our vote now holds more power than ever. Elected officials, like county attorneys, have the power to exercise their prosecutorial discretion and decline to go after physicians. We encourage voters to elect those who will do everything within their power to protect abortion access.”