Lawsuit seeks to block new sweeping anti-abortion law in Arizona

Lacey Latch
Arizona Republic
A new Arizona law makes it a crime to perform abortions based solely on genetic conditions like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, among several other provisions

A coalition of doctors, medical groups and civil rights organizations have filed a lawsuit seeking to block new restrictions on abortion in Arizona before they take effect Sept. 29.

Originally signed into law by Gov. Doug Ducey in April, the changes make it a crime to perform abortions based solely on genetic conditions like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis. The bill that created the law was approved by the Legislature despite doctors and attorneys calling it “medically unsound” and unconstitutional.

Represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU Arizona, the plaintiffs in the case argue that the restrictions take away a person’s constitutional right to an abortion if the child has severe genetic abnormalities.

Further, they argue that the law's “personhood requirement” that qualifies fetuses and embryos as people at the moment of conception puts patients and medical professionals in legal jeopardy when performing essential prenatal care.

“Politicians should not get to decide what is an acceptable reason for seeking an abortion,” said Emily Nestler, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a released statement. “Patients are the ones best suited to decide what is best for themselves and their families, in consultation with their health care providers.”

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and names Attorney General Mark Brnovich, county attorneys for the state's 15 counties and leaders of the Arizona Department of Health Services and the state Medical Board as defendants.

"The attorney general has a sacred duty to stand-up for society’s most vulnerable and our office will faithfully defend Arizona’s law to protect the lives of the unborn," said Katie Connor, spokesperson for the Attorney General's Office.

The lawsuit comes three weeks after Ducey joined 11 other Republican governors and more than 200 GOP lawmakers calling for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The governors and lawmakers joined the state of Mississippi in arguing that the 14th Amendment does not include the right to abortion and the Roe ruling upset the constitutional balance between the state and federal government.

More than 20 state attorneys general, including Brnovich, signed onto a similar brief.

Ducey has a long pro-life record, approving every anti-abortion bill that has crossed his desk including measures that require doctors to ask patients if the pregnancies they want to terminate were a result of sexual assault, sex trafficking or domestic violence and barring women from purchasing any federal health care plan that includes abortion coverage.

This bill originally faced heated debate in the Legislature before landing on Ducey’s desk for his signature to become law.

It has several other provisions, including a prohibition on sending abortion-inducing drugs through the mail and requiring the cremation or burial of fetal remains.

Arguments over bill at Legislature

Democrats condemned the legislation as unconstitutional, saying it would threaten the doctor-patient relationship and in turn jeopardize women's health. They pointed to a host of medical associations that opposed the measure and slammed Republicans for failing to provide for children with genetic abnormalities after they are born.

"Look at how we pay and train caregivers, how we treat people in long term care facilities and how we've been willing to put people with disabilities at the back of the line as we deal with COVID austerity," said Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, arguing that, "as a society, we do not value disabled lives." 

Republicans, on the other hand, said the bill would help prevent "modern day eugenics" by ensuring equal treatment for babies with genetic abnormalities. The life of an unborn child matters just as much as the life of its mother, they said.

They also claimed Democrats had conflated health care with murder. 

Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, did agree with his Democratic counterparts that the state should "spend more money on making sure families who have children with disabilities are being taken care of and helped."

"But to think that since we don't have the adequate funding for that yet, that murdering a child is OK … that, to me, I do not agree with," he said. 

Arizona Republic reporter Maria Polletta contributed to this article.

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