Arizona Medical Association files lawsuit seeking clarity over abortion laws

(WASHINGTON) — The Arizona Medical Association and a physician filed a lawsuit Tuesday, asking a court to provide clarity amid what they say is “significant confusion” over the state’s abortion laws.

The plaintiffs, including Paul A. Isaacson, M.D., according to the court document, are asking the court to allow abortions up to 15 weeks into pregnancy in accordance with the state’s most recent abortion law. A 15-week abortion ban was signed into law in March 2022 by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and went into effect on Sept. 24 — 90 days after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Separately, on Sept. 23, a state judge granted Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s request to lift an injunction on the near-total ban on abortion, passed in 1901, only making exceptions to save the life of the mother.

An injunction was put in place to block the 121-year-old ban in 1973 following the ruling of Roe v. Wade.

“There has been significant confusion around the status of Arizona’s abortion laws, and specifically whether a near total criminal ban on abortion, A.R.S. § 13-3603 (the “Territorial Law”), that was enacted in 1901 but can be traced back to 1864, preempts dozens of existing abortion laws, including the 15-Week Law, and criminalizes otherwise legal, physician provided abortion care,” the medical association wrote in its lawsuit.

After the state judge’s ruling, a spokesperson for Ducey told ABC News that said the 15-week abortion ban legislation was the “law of the land,” and that “Arizona remains one of the most pro-life states in the country.”

The suit argues that the confusion over what abortion care is allowed under Arizona laws deprives physicians of their right to due process.

“Arizona courts have a duty to harmonize the Legislature’s enactments as they exist today. The Territorial Law subjects physicians, including Dr. Isaacson and members of the Arizona Medical Association, to harsh criminal penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment for providing healthcare services that have been legal in Arizona for nearly 50 years,” the medical association argued in the suit.

According to the suit, the confusion over what abortion services are allowed under state law has led to physicians, including members of the association, to suspend providing abortion care in Arizona “due to fear of criminal prosecution.”

Plaintiffs are asking the court to issue a ruling that “Arizona’s numerous laws that allow a licensed physician to provide an abortion in accordance with the regulatory scheme enacted by the Legislature continue to apply to licensed physicians,” and that the ban criminalizing abortions applies to other persons.

“We hope the court will clarify physicians’ obligations to enable them to once again provide fundamental health care,” said Rebecca Chan, staff attorney on the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

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