Supreme Court won’t revive Arizona law banning most abortions after 20 weeks

The Supreme Court declined Monday to revive an Arizona law that prohibited most abortions after 20 weeks. (Susan Walsh/AP)

The Supreme Court declined Monday to revive an Arizona law that prohibited most abortions after a pregnancy had reached 20 weeks.

The court, as is its custom, gave no reason for declining to review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that the law was unconstitutional because it violated standards established by the justices 40 years ago in Roe v. Wade.

About a dozen other states have passed laws similar to Arizona’s, hoping they would provide a way to challenge the court’s ruling that abortion must be generally available to women before a fetus reaches viability, which is generally considered to be around 24 weeks. Pregnancies last about 40 weeks.

It is the third time this term that the court has decided not to review a lower court decision that struck down a restrictive state abortion law. The other two came from Oklahoma, where new rules would have practically eliminated drug-induced abortions and required what opponents said would be unnecessary ultrasound tests.

On the other hand, the court denied a stay of a new Texas law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, a rule opponents said will lead to some clinics having to close. The law is being reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed her state’s law in 2012. It provided exceptions for medical emergencies but was one of the most restrictive of the new provisions.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to deny [the state’s petition] in this case is wrong, and is a clear infringement on the authority of states to implement critical life-affirming laws,” Brewer’s office said in a statement. “Governor Brewer will continue to fight to protect Arizona women, families and our most vulnerable population — unborn children.”

Abortion rights supporters applauded the court’s decision to stay out of the fight, but noted a rise in restrictive abortion laws they say limit access to the procedure.

“The Supreme Court soundly declined to review the Ninth Circuit’s sound decision that Arizona’s abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing precedent,” Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “. . . But 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.”

Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, said the laws affect a “very, very small sliver of women” because most abortions occur well before the limit in the law.

Not all of the state laws imposing the 20-week limit have been challenged, because the procedure is so uncommon, she said. But laws in Georgia and Idaho have been blocked.

Robert Barnes has been a Washington Post reporter and editor since 1987. He has covered the Supreme Court since November 2006.


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