ARIZONA NEWS

Judges grill both sides in hearing about Arizona abortion laws

Dec 1, 2022, 8:07 AM

Activists in this file photo rally outside the Arizona Capitol in June, 2022, after the U.S. Suprem...

Activists in this file photo rally outside the Arizona Capitol in June, 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its Roe v. Wade ruling. (File photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

(File photo by Troy Hill/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Arizona Court of Appeals judges quizzed attorneys Wednesday as they tried to figure out how, or if, they can square competing abortion laws that could restrict or outright criminalize abortions in the state.

The hourlong hearing is the latest fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision this summer to reverse its Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a right to an abortion in 1973. That led Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich to ask a Pima County judge to lift the 50-year-old injunction that had blocked a territorial-era abortion ban under Roe.

The judge agreed in September, reinstating the 1901 law that makes it a crime to perform or aid in an abortion. But that ruling came just one day before a new state law took effect that allowed abortions up to 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The conflicting laws briefly led providers in the state to halt abortions, but the service slowly returned after the Court of Appeals blocked the lower court’s ruling. Clinics in the state are offering abortions while the appeals court tries to untangle the law.

They did not appear any closer to untangling things after Wednesday’s hearing, in which the attorney general’s office argued that the two laws could coexist and attorneys for Planned Parenthood Arizona said it was the courts’ job to “harmonize” a century of state abortion law.

“Instead of focusing on harmonization, why don’t you simply just focus on the language that is pretty important to us and adopt a construction that reconciles one with another?” Judge Peter Swann asked at one point. “Why do we even go with harmonization?”

Planned Parenthood attorney Sarah Mac Dougall argued that the Arizona Supreme Court has told lower courts “that you need to fit all of these laws together” when reconciling contradictory state laws.

Harmony has been Planned Parenthood’s prime argument throughout the legal battle over the conflicting laws. Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said her organization has been asking for harmony from the courts “since AG Brnovich first filed his request to lift the injunction on the near-total ban.”

“We have been asking the court to clarify that the Civil War-era ban must be harmonized with the nearly five decades of law governing abortion that are on the books in Arizona” in the wake of Roe, Fonteno said in a statement Wednesday.

The judges appeared no less convinced by arguments from Michael Catlett, the Arizona deputy solicitor general who was representing the state. He said the two laws are not conflicting, but can coexist.

The judges seemed to disagree and asked Catlett how that could be possible. Swann gave a hypothetical asking, if a doctor were to deliver an abortion on a person who is 10 weeks pregnant, what would happen under the two laws now on the books?

“At 10 weeks, the 15-week law would not apply,” Catlett said. He then went on the explain that the 15-week ban is necessary for physicians who would attempt to deliver an abortion at 18 weeks of pregnancy.

The judges expressed concerns that the decision on whom to prosecute when, and under what law, would be left up to local prosecutors and would make it impossible for health care providers to know what they could or could not do.

After more than an hour of the judges’ spirited questioning of both sides, Judge Peter Eckerstrom ended the hearing by thanking the parties as the three-judge panel sets out to “resolve this very difficult question of statutory interpretation.”

Both sides claimed to be satisfied with the hearing afterward.

“We are hopeful that the Arizona Court of Appeals will not reinstate the superior court’s order” that revived the abortion ban, Fonteno said in her statement.

But a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said the state is looking forward to the court providing “clarity” on the issue.

“A new abortion law passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor earlier this year indicated that our previous law was not repealed,” said the spokesperson, Brittni Thomason, in an email. “Arizonans deserve clarity and certainty on this important issue.”

Eckerstrom did not indicate when a ruling might be handed down, but the court’s decision is not likely to be the end of the legal fight over the laws.

“We know the work is far from done and we have said it all along – we will not stop fighting,” Fonteno said in her statement.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

The Loop 101 freeway will be closed in both directions near Tatum Boulevard over three nights this ...

KTAR.com

Overnight Loop 101 closures near Tatum Boulevard to start Monday

Both directions of the Loop 101 in northeast Phoenix near Tatum Boulevard will be closed three nights for utility work starting Monday.

8 hours ago

Bipartisan state budget of $16 billion passes in Arizona Legislature...

ktar.com

Weekend Wrap: Here are the biggest Phoenix news stories from June 14-16

From Arizona lawmakers passing a controversial bipartisan state budget to a fire blazing north of Fountain Hills, here are some of the biggest news stories in the Valley over the weekend.

10 hours ago

A man is dead after he was shot overnight in north phoenix....

KTAR.com

Parking dispute leaves Phoenix man dead in overnight shooting

A man is dead after he was shot overnight in north Phoenix.

10 hours ago

A 2-year-old girl died after falling into a backyard pool in Phoenix....

KTAR.com

2-year-old girl found dead in Phoenix backyard pool

Detectives are investigating the death of a 2-year-old girl who was found in a backyard pool on Saturday in Phoenix.

12 hours ago

Firefighting crews are battling the Riverside Fire north of Fountain Hills. (Tonto National Forest ...

KTAR.com

Bartlett Lake recreational areas north of Fountain Hills evacuated for Riverside Fire

The recreational areas near Bartlett Lake have been evacuated as firefighters battle the Riverside Fire north of Fountain Hills.

13 hours ago

A 2-year-old boy died after he was found in a backyard jacuzzi Saturday. (Pixabay photo)...

KTAR.com

2-year-old boy found in west Phoenix jacuzzi dies

Detectives are investigating the death of a two-year-old boy who was found in a backyard jacuzzi on Saturday in west Phoenix.

14 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s how to be worry-free when your A/C goes out in the middle of summer

PHOENIX -- As Arizona approaches another hot summer, Phoenix residents are likely to spend more time indoors.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Judges grill both sides in hearing about Arizona abortion laws