PHOENIX (CN) – Part of a recently enacted Arizona law endangers women’s health and violates their due-process rights by banning abortions at 20 weeks, before fetuses are viable, three physicians claim in Federal Court. The challenged provision is scheduled to take effect Aug. 2.
Paul Isaacson, William Clewell and Hugh Miller, doctors who perform abortions at or after 20 weeks, say the state “cannot ban abortions prior to viability” and claim the ban “unconstitutionally endangers women’s health” with its “narrowly defined medical emergency exception.”
House Bill 2036, also known as the Mother’s Health and Safety Act, bans abortions at or after 20 weeks, “except in cases of a medical emergency, based on the documented risks to women’s health and the strong medical evidence that unborn children feel pain during an abortion at that gestational age.”
Under this new provision, the physicians say, “a woman seeking abortion care at or after 20 weeks due to a medical condition that threatens her health may either be prohibited from doing so altogether, or may have to delay the procedure until her condition worsens to the point where immediate action is necessary, and the abortion therefore meets the medical emergency exception’s temporal requirements.”
Some women seek abortions because their pregnancies pose health risks, which “can come from exacerbation of a pre-existing medical condition or can be caused by a condition related to or brought on by the pregnancy itself,” the doctors claim.
Though the threat to a woman’s health may be serious, “it does not pose an immediate or severely time-sensitive threat, such that it constitutes a medical emergency for purposes of the exception to the 20-week ban,” the lawsuit states.
“The definition of medical emergency applicable to the 20-week ban comes from existing Arizona law, which permits physicians to waive a mandatory 24-hour delay for women seeking abortions if the woman is experiencing a medical emergency,” the doctors claim.
But under the new provision, “the definition of ‘medical emergency’ delineates whether an abortion may be obtained at all — even a previability abortion needed to preserve a woman’s health,” according to the complaint (original emphasis).
No fetus is viable at 20 weeks, the doctors say.
They note that women typically undergo prenatal testing at 18 to 20 weeks, so the bill will eliminate the option of abortion for women who learn that their fetuses have a medical condition or anomaly that’s life-threatening or will cause serious, lifelong disabilities.
Violation of the 20-week ban is a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months imprisonment. It can also result in the suspension or revocation of a physician’s license.
Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law in April.
Defendants are Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne; Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery; Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall; the Arizona Medical Board; and Lisa Wynn, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board.
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the ban is unconstitutional and an order barring its enforcement for abortions performed before the fetus is viable. They are represented by Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York.