Supreme Court Refuses to Review Arizona’s 20-Week Abortion Ban

The Supreme Court's decision leaves in place a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling permanently blocking the law from taking effect.

The Supreme Court's decision leaves in place a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling permanently blocking the law from taking effect. United States Supreme Court, Washington, D.C. / Flickr

On Monday, the Supreme Court unceremoniously rejected attempts to revive Arizona’s 20-week abortion ban, adding Horne v. Issacson to a long list of cases denied review by the nation’s highest court.

Like Texas, Arizona’s 20-week ban was passed as part of a massive omnibus anti-abortion bill and would have banned all abortions at 20 weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period (LMP) without any exceptions for a pregnant woman’s life or health unless she is experiencing a dire and possibly life-threatening emergency. But in July 2012, the Center for Reproductive Rights, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit and challenged the Arizona law as unconstitutional. A lower court originally upheld the measure, ruling the narrow exception for life of a pregnant person rendered the restriction a “regulation” and not a “ban.”

But in May 2013 that decision was reversed, and the law permanently blocked in a unanimous decision by the the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit’s decision reinforced that prior to viability states may not cut off abortion access, and that laws that ban abortions prior to that point are unconstitutional, calling the extreme measure “unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of Supreme Court authority, beginning with Roe [v. Wade] and ending with Gonzales.” Supporters of the Arizona law had said the measure was designed to directly challenge Roe and fetal viability as the baseline standard by which abortion restrictions are considered constitutional. Monday’s Roberts Court decision leaves that standard in place, for now.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, reacted to the decision in a statement. “The Supreme Court soundly declined to review the Ninth Circuit’s sound decision that Arizona’s abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing precedent,” Northup said. “This ensures that no Arizona women’s lives or health are harmed by this callous and unconstitutional law. But women should not be forced to run to court, year after year, in state after state, to protect their constitutional rights and access to critical health care.”

The Arizona case is not the only abortion-related case before the Roberts Court this week. On Wednesday, the Court hears arguments in McCullen v. Coakley, the case challenging the constitutionality of a Massachusetts reproductive health-care clinic buffer zone law.