Jul 12, 2022 - Health

District court temporarily blocks Arizona law granting "personhood" rights to fetuses

Photo of a wall with the Planned Parenthood logo and a sign that says "Care. No Matter What."
The Planned Parenthood Central Phoenix Health Center. Photo: Laura Segall/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. district court on Monday temporarily blocked a 2021 Arizona law that grants "personhood" rights to fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs.

Why it matters: Under the ruling, the law can't be used to criminalize abortion services in the state. Abortion providers and advocacy groups had asked the court for an emergency motion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

  • Abortion providers had stopped performing the procedure, unsure whether the personhood law would amount to a total abortion ban.

Details: The law acknowledges "on behalf of an unborn child at every stage of development, all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state."

  • It also bans abortion if the procedure is done due to a "genetic abnormality."
  • When the law was first challenged in 2021, abortion providers and advocacy groups argued that it was "unconstitutionally vague," as it did not explain what "fetal conditions" constitute a "genetic abnormality."

Between the lines: The language of "personhood" laws could also potentially be used to restrict some forms of birth control and IVF.

Driving the news: The law "is intolerably vague because it is entirely unclear what it means to construe and interpret Arizona law to 'acknowledge' the equal rights of the unborn," U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes wrote in the ruling.

  • It is also "incongruous with other aspects of Arizona law — specifically, provisions that do not define 'person' to include an 'unborn child' and provisions that permit and regulate abortion," per Rayes.
  • "It is paradoxical how one can 'acknowledge' the equal rights of the unborn while simultaneously permitting and regulating abortion and excluding the unborn from the express definition of 'person,'" Rayes said.

What they're saying: "The court made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban," Jessica Sklarsky, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

  • "People should not have to live in a state of fear when accessing or providing essential health care."
  • "Arizona's personhood provision was crafted recklessly by extremist lawmakers in their harmful quest to eradicate abortion access in the state," added Victoria López, director of programs and strategy of the ACLU of Arizona.
  • "While we’re glad that the court has blocked it and that prosecutors can't use this to go after pregnant people or providers, the fight for abortion access continues."

The big picture: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation in March to bar abortion past 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Go deeper: Abortion trigger laws in effect now Roe v. Wade is overturned

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