The US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has temporarily blocked an Arizona law prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The three judge panel handed down its decision just two days after a trial judge ruled that the new law could go into effect. The Arizona law seems to run counter to previous Supreme Court rulings which have determined that individual states cannot prohibit abortion before a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is considered to be approximately 24 weeks of pregnancy (USNews). Eight other states now have laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy; however, Arizona’s proposed legislation is unique in that its intention is to start the 20 week count immediately following a woman’s last menstrual period, which would essentially outlaw abortion after 18 weeks of pregnancy.
Under the controversial legislation, doctors could lose their licenses and be prosecuted if they do not abide by the law. Yet there is much this law does not consider, including that fact that many medical issues cannot be detected in fetuses at 18 to 20 weeks gestation. So women would not necessarily be informed of fetal abnormalities or life threatening medical conditions until it was too late to choose to end the pregnancy. According to Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney at the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, “This certainly is the most extreme and dangerous of abortion bans that we’ve seen in some time” (nbcnews.com). A number of physicians in the state have come forward to express opposition to the law, even going so far as to file a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the law from being enacted. In expressing his concerns, Dr. Paul Isaacson stated, “Approximately 70 percent of my patients seeking abortions at or after 20 weeks do so due to a serious or lethal fetal abnormality. Typically, these patients have reached the decision to terminate the pregnancy after multiple consultations with specialists and/or loved ones” (Bloomberg).
Arizona is a state that has undergone a tremendous political shift over the last decade. As recently as 2000, the state was considered to be pro-choice. Janet Napolitano served as governor from 2003-2009, during which time she vetoed a number of proposed laws restricting abortion. When Napolitano accepted the position of US Secretary of Homeland Security in 2009, Arizona’s Secretary of State Jan Brewer became governor, as the state does not have a lieutenant governor. In the three years that Brewer has governed the state, over a dozen laws restricting abortion have been passed (nbcnews.com).
Beyond Arizona, the nation as a whole has seen a tremendous increase in legislation restricting a woman’s right to legal and safe abortion. According to Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute in New York, prior to 2011, the highest number of restrictions ever to be passed in a year on the state level was 34, which occurred in 2005. But in 2011, a record 92 abortion restrictions were passed, followed by 39 thus far in 2012 (nbcnews.com).
If the Arizona law is eventually upheld, it could potentially lead to an increase in abortions, as women confronting high risk pregnancies might not want to risk waiting until they no longer have a choice. It would also inevitably lead to increased health complications for women experiencing high risk pregnancies. In order to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks, a woman would have to file a lawsuit stating why she should be allowed to have an abortion. The obvious irony here is that during the time it takes to decide the suit, the woman would have to endure additional weeks of pregnancy carrying a fetus that is likely not to survive birth or that will endure incredible pain and hardship following birth. With each passing day a woman would also be increasing her own health risk.
Legislators who are determined to outlaw abortion by any means necessary must pause and consider the ramifications of pursuing their political agendas at any cost. And women voters should consider this the next time they head to the polls: when we elect legislators in what has become a political environment of extremes, we could very well be giving them the power to control our bodies and put our lives at risk.