Abortion Rights Groups Get Judge to Change His Decision on ‘Personhood’ Law

The legal maneuvering continues as abortion rights groups double down on their efforts since the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes from Phoenix blocked a 2021 state “personhood” law that allowed for all legal rights to be given to unborn children. Abortion rights groups argued that the law put abortion providers at risk of prosecution for a wide variety of crimes. 

The judge wrote in his ruling that the groups suing to block the law were right. He said it would be “anyone’s guess” as to what criminal laws abortion providers would be breaking if they performed even legal abortions. 

Judge Rayes wrote, “And that is the problem. When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, Plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law.”

Ultimately, the judge agreed with the challengers and said the law was unconstitutionally vague. 

This could impact four other states that have similar “personhood” laws standing now, including Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, and Missouri. 

People are now watching to see if abortions in Arizona will start again after the Supreme Court ruling halted them. Abortion providers stopped all procedures because there was a pre-1901 law on the books that banned abortions.

In Pima County, where the 1901 law remains blocked, abortions could be legal, but Mark Brnovich, the Arizona attorney general, is planning to ask a court to lift the order and allow enforcement of the law. 

Judge Rayes refused to block the personhood law last year, but that didn’t stop abortion rights groups from asking the court to do it again after the recent Supreme Court decision. 

They argued that with the vagueness of the law, providers could be charged with child abuse, assault, or a whole list of other crimes. They were also concerned about civil action along with criminal actions.

The attorney general’s office argued for the court that the personhood law created no new criminal laws.

The abortion-rights groups boasted about the ruling. Jessica Sklarsky, the lawyer for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said, “The court made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban. 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.”

Brittni Thomason, a spokesperson for the attorney general’s office said that they did not agree with the judge’s ruling and would be considering their next steps. 

Judge Reverses Ruling on Personhood Law

Judge Rayes admitted that he changed his mind about the case from his ruling last year. “The Court is now persuaded it was wrong to rely on Webster the first go around,” he wrote.

This ruling blocks enforcement of the law on the books while challenges move forward in court.

Rayes said that medical providers would not have to guess about whether or not their actions are lawful or unlawful and they should not have to worry whether their care could lead to criminal or civil liability.

States now have wide-ranging rights to limit abortion, and they can have many laws limiting or blocking all abortions. Old laws on the books along with new laws recently legislated have led to battles in many states over which laws are now enforceable. 

Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey is saying there is a ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy that he signed in March and it takes precedence over the pre-1901 law that Brnovich has said is still in effect.

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