What to Know About the Arizona Supreme Court’s Ruling on the State’s Abortion Ban

The Arizona Supreme Court upheld a 160-year-old abortion ban on Tuesday that would prohibit nearly all abortions in the state except when “necessary to save” a pregnant person’s life. 

The decision reversed a previous Arizona Court of Appeals ruling that allowed abortion to remain legal in the state up to 15 weeks, in accordance with a 2022 law, . 

“Make no mistake, by effectively striking down a law passed this century and replacing it with one from 160 years ago, the Court has risked the health and lives of Arizonans,” said Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes in a Tuesday, before adding that her office would not be prosecuting any physician or woman under the “draconian law.” 

The near-total abortion ban was written before Arizona was officially a state and before women could vote. The ban, which dates back to 1864, would sentence abortion providers to two to five years in prison for providing an abortion. Additional sanctions could be issued to physicians who perform abortions after 15 weeks.

The ban won’t go into effect just yet—as the court stayed its enforcement for 14 days.

“Arizonans deserve the right to make personal decisions about their reproductive health care, free from government interference. We are devastated by today’s ruling but we remain committed to defending reproductive freedom in the courts, at the legislature, as well as in communities across the state towards the passage of the Arizona for Abortion Access Act this November,” said Jared Keenan, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, in a . “The urgency to enshrine the right to abortion in our state’s constitution has never been more necessary.” 

What the Arizona Supreme Court decision says

The Arizona Supreme Court decision would make it so that “all abortions, except those necessary to save a woman’s life, are illegal,” according to the ruling. There are no exceptions for rape and incest. 

“We conclude that [Arizona’s law] does not create a right to, or otherwise provide independent statutory authority for, an abortion that repeals or restricts [the law], but rather is predicated entirely on the existence of a federal constitutional right to an abortion since disclaimed by Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization,” the court said in its opinion. “Absent the federal constitutional abortion right, and because [the law] does not independently authorize abortion, there is no provision in federal or state law prohibiting [the law’s] operation. Accordingly, [Arizona’s law] is now enforceable.”

The act has been criticized by several politicians, including the president. “Millions of Arizonans will soon live under an even more extreme and dangerous abortion ban, which fails to protect women even when their health is at risk or in tragic cases of rape or incest,” President Biden said in a Tuesday . 

What does it mean for women and abortion providers?

Planned Parenthood says that abortion through 15 weeks will remain accessible “for a limited period of time” because of a separate lawsuit filed in October 2022. In that case, the Maricopa County Superior Court ruled that the state cannot enforce the abortion ban until 45 days after the Arizona Supreme Court made a decision, . That means the ban would not go into effect until June.   

“This decision will result in a legal chilling effect on Arizonans who wish to obtain abortion services regardless of the circumstances that lead to their decision, and for those in the medical community who might provide them,” said Pima County Attorney Laura Conover, a party in the case in an emailed statement.“The result of this will ultimately cause an increase in unsafe abortions and threaten the liberties of those involved because the criminalization of abortions will not end the need or desire of those who seek services.”

Will there be a ballot initiative?

Arizona for Abortion Access, made up of a number of reproductive rights organizations, is pushing for a constitutional amendment that would give a right to abortion care until fetal viability, or the 24th week of pregnancy. Abortions would be provided after that point if a health care provider says an abortion is necessary to “protect the life or the physical or mental health of the pregnant individual,” .

Arizona abortion advocates need to get 384,000 valid signatures by July 3 if they want to put abortion on the ballot this November. Organizers said they exceeded the signature threshold by more than 100,000, but have a goal of 800,000, . The signatures still have to be certified.