PHOENIX — A federal judge today refused to stop a new law limiting abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy from going into effect on Thursday.
Judge James Teilborg acknowledged that prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings have said states may not ban abortion outright before a fetus is considered viable. That is generally considered to be in the 22-24 week range.
But Teilborg said SB 2036 “does not impose a substantial obstacle to previability abortions.” Instead, the judge wrote, the law only limits abortion between 20 weeks and the point of viability.
The judge also rejected arguments that the cutoff — beyond which abortions would be allowed only in case of the mother's death or serious injury — will not deny women the right to abort a deformed fetus.
In his ruling, Teilborg said evidence submitted by one of the doctors “stops short of claiming that there are any conditions that could only by diagnosed after 20 weeks that could not have been found before that time.” Instead, he cited the statement of a witness for the defense of the law.
“The court finds that it would be extremely rare to find a condition that could be diagnosed after 20 weeks that could not have been diagnosed earlier,” he wrote.
And Teilborg was not swayed by the possibility that “in certain unique circumstances” a diagnosis of fetal abnormalities will not occur until after 20 weeks. Even if that does remove a woman's decision to have an abortion, “such a situation cannot be the basis of the court’s decision in a facial challenge to the statute.”
Instead, Teilborg said, if a woman does find herself in that situation, only then should the court be asked to intervene.
On the other side of the equation, the judge said the state has a legitimate interest in prohibiting abortions beyond 20 weeks.
“There is no question that the government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman,” he wrote, quoting from a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which outlawed partial birth abortions.
In this case, Teilborg wrote, Arizona lawmakers stated one purpose of the legislation was to prevent abortions where the fetus would feel the pain involved. He then proceeded in graphic terms to describe the procedure most likely used at that point in a pregnancy, saying there lawmakers cited “substantial and well-documented evidence that an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least 20 weeks gestational age.”
Teilborg also said the Legislature also said it was moving “to protect the health of the pregnant woman, which resulted in part from a finding that the major complications of abortion are highest after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”
Read more in tomorrow’s Star
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