published : 2023-08-24

AZ Supreme Court Considers Pre-Statehood Abortion Law

Pre-statehood law that could criminalize abortion doctors comes under scrutiny amidst legal upheaval

An image of the Arizona Supreme Court building, captured with a Sony Alpha 7III, showing its impressive architecture against a clear, azure sky.

The Arizona Supreme Court has entered into a landmark debate, agreeing to revisit a lower court’s verdict surrounding the contentious issue of abortion.

The law under scrutiny harks back to pre-statehood times, potentially exposing doctors performing abortions within the first 15 weeks of pregnancy to criminal charges. Legal specialists view this move as a significant twist in the evolving narrative of abortion rights in the state.

The motivation behind this resides in a collection of other Arizona statutes, which openly permit abortion procedures within the 15-week limit. Arizona has legalized abortions up to the 15th week of pregnancy, thanks to a law that came into existence in 2022.

A shot of Dr. Eric Hazelrigg standing in front of one of his anti-abortion counseling centers in Phoenix, taken with a Nikon D850, capturing a moment in his daily work.

Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, the medical supervisor of a network of anti-abortion counseling centers in Phoenix, instigated this high-level legal review. These organizations, more commonly referred to as crisis pregnancy centers, focus on steering people away from considering an abortion.

Celina Washburn, a dissenting voice in the fracas, has taken her protest to the iconic location of the Arizona Capitol. The protester made her voice heard regarding the abortion rights ruling in late September.

The long-standing law that Hazelrigg supports unequivocally, enacted in 1864, comes down heavily on abortion. The legislation allows the termination of pregnancies only when the mother’s life is in danger, with no provisions even for instances of rape or incest.

A compelling photograph of a gavel and legal documents, symbolizing the court's decision and the legal tangle surrounding the 1864 law, captured with a Canon EOS R5.

In a climactic twist last December, the state Court of Appeals notified its decision to evaluate the contentious law in juxtaposition with other established statutes. The court's interpretation stipulated that only doctors could perform abortion procedures, leaving non-doctors exposed to prosecution under the archaic legislation.

Earlier, a court had prohibited the enforcement of the 1864 law, following the precedent set by the famous Roe v. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, which safeguarded the constitutional right to an abortion.

However, in a shocking turn of events, the Supreme Court made the groundbreaking decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June this year. This led to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich succeeding in persuading a judge in Tucson to vitiate the court order that prevented the 1864 law’s enforcement.