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Lawsuit challenges new Arizona abortion restrictions, 'personhood' provision

Abortion rights advocates are asking a federal court to block an Arizona abortion law that they say grants civil rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized human eggs.

The law, passed in April and signed by Republican Governor Doug Ducey, is set to take effect Sept. 29. A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court is asking for a temporary injunction, which they hope would become permanent, to stop the state from enforcing the law.

“If Arizona lawmakers really cared about ‘life’, they'd be focusing on the rising COVID cases and high maternal mortality rate in our state,” Laura Terech, state coordinator for Arizona National Organization of Women, which is a plaintiff in the case, said in a news release.

The lawsuit also challenges part of the law that bans abortions based on a woman’s reason for seeking it — for instance, because of a fetal condition or diagnosis.

The “reason ban” covers any abortion when a health care provider knows the pregnancy is being terminated because of a “genetic abnormality of the child” and makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions “knowing the abortion is sought solely because of a genetic abnormality of the child,” the lawsuit states.

The "personhood" provision, according to the lawsuit, “alters the meaning of large swaths of the Arizona Revised Statutes in a manner that is unconstitutionally vague” and has the potential to make an array of activities that endanger fetuses illegal, including gynecological care, contraceptive care, hormone therapy, cancer screening and treatment, and substance use treatment.

“Under the Act’s new interpretation of ‘unborn child,’ it is unclear whether clinicians could be criminally prosecuted for endangerment or child abuse when they provide such care, regardless of whether the treatment was necessary to protect the pregnant patient’s health,” the lawsuit states.

The law drives a wedge between doctors and patients and is part of a larger effort to stigmatize abortion, said Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

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“We’ll continue fighting this cruel policy to ensure that no one is forced to carry a pregnancy or become a parent against their will in Arizona or anywhere else in the country,” she said in the news release.

The Arizona National Council for Jewish Women has been fighting the law since it was introduced, said its president, Civia Tamarkin.

“This bill jeopardizes the lives of pregnant people, potentially criminalizing them, and prohibits doctors from providing evidence based medical care,” she said.

So far in 2021, according to the ACLU, lawmakers across the nation have passed more than 90 abortion restrictions — the most in any year. Arizona restrictions already include a 24-hour waiting period, a ban on telemedicine abortion consultations, and a law banning nurse practitioners from providing abortion care, the ACLU said.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a group that supported the law, said she believes the state's attorney general, Mark Brnovich, will "vigorously defend" the law.

Plaintiffs in the case include the Arizona National Council of Jewish Women, Arizona Medical Association, Arizona National Organization of Women and physicians Eric M. Reuss and Paul A. Isaacson.

The lengthy list of defendants includes Brnovich, all 15 Arizona county attorneys, the Arizona Medical Board and members, and state Department of Health Services Director Cara Crist.

The plaintiffs are presented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Arizona.

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Arizona restrictions already include a 24-hour waiting period, a ban on telemedicine abortion consultations, and a law banning nurse practitioners from providing abortion care, the ACLU said.