Arizona Law Granting “Personhood” to Fetuses Blocked in Court

Law has Caused Chaos and Confusion, Halting All Abortion Services in the State

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
July 11, 2022 8:15 pm

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PHOENIX – Today, a federal district court granted a request by Arizona abortion providers, physicians, and advocacy groups to prevent a 2021 law that grants “personhood” rights to fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs from being used to criminalize abortion services. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, all abortion providers stopped services amid the uncertainty of whether the personhood law would allow state officials to inflict a total abortion ban on Arizonans.

The plaintiffs asked the court to block the law as it applies to abortion care just one day after the devastating ruling from the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The personhood law classifies fetuses, embryos, and fertilized eggs as “people” starting at the point of conception. The vague provision placed both providers and pregnant people at risk of arbitrary prosecution. The law was first challenged in court in 2021.

Amid the uncertainty surrounding the interpretation and application of the personhood law, Arizona abortion clinics in the state have suspended abortion services. Arizona’s personhood law is one of several conflicting laws on the books, including a pre-Roe ban, adding to the confusion on whether abortion providers can resume services.

The emergency motion for injunction was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Wilkinson Stekloff on behalf of the Arizona Medical Association, the Arizona National Council of Jewish Women, Arizona NOW, and two abortion providers Dr. Paul Isaacson and Dr. Eric Reuss.the Arizona Medical Association, the Arizona National Council of Jewish Women, Arizona NOW, and two abortion providers Dr. Paul Isaacson and Dr. Eric Reuss.

Quotes from plaintiffs and attorneys:

“We’re glad the court stopped this law from being used to force Arizonans to carry a pregnancy against their will and face the life-altering consequences of being denied essential health care. But our work to block the state from trying to control women and pregnant people’s bodies and futures is far from over,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We’ll continue using every tool at our disposal to fight for a future where everyone can decide if and when to have a child, regardless of where they live.”

“Arizona’s personhood provision was crafted recklessly by extremist lawmakers in their harmful quest to eradicate abortion access in the state,” said Victoria López, director of program and strategy of the ACLU of Arizona. “While we’re glad that the court has blocked it and that prosecutors can’t use this to go after pregnant people or providers, the fight for abortion access continues. Over 80 percent of Arizona voters want abortion to remain legal – and we’ll continue to fight for that freedom.”

“The court made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban,” said Jessica Sklarsky, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision overturning Roe v. Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need. People should not have to live in a state of fear when accessing or providing essential healthcare. We will continue our fight to preserve abortion access in Arizona and across the country.”

“Today’s district court decision blocking the enforcement of Arizona’s personhood law helps protect Arizonans from civil and criminal penalties stemming from the provision of abortion care,” said Ralia Polechronis, a partner at Wilkinson Stekloff. “Before today’s significant ruling, confusion and fear created by this vague provision were resulting in Arizonans being deprived of access to essential and time-sensitive healthcare. We are proud to have achieved this meaningful victory on behalf of our clients.”

“Beyond restricting access to abortion, personhood laws have broad potential for criminalizing pregnant people and allowing state surveillance and regulation of their conduct. Under these laws, women have been jailed for miscarriages and stillbirths, confined to institutions, and forced to undergo court-ordered Caesarean sections,” said Civia Tamarkin, President of National Council of Jewish Women Arizona. “It is a relief that Arizona’s personhood law has been blocked today. We are determined to fight the oppression and hypocrisy of laws that would grant constitutional rights to a developing fetus by denying them to the person carrying it.”

“It is outrageous and a perversion of the law for politicians to dictate that a zygote from the moment of conception is a person with full human rights under Arizona law, but a living, breathing, working, thinking, independent woman who is pregnant does not,” said Sheila Ogea, State Coordinator for Arizona NOW. “This cannot stand, and we are glad the court recognized that today by blocking this extreme law in the abortion context.”

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