(CN) – An Arizona law banning abortions at 20 weeks or later “does not impose a substantial obstacle” to women seeking abortions before their fetuses are viable, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge James Teilborg rejected the claims of doctors who said the ban would unconstitutionally strip women of their right to abort after learning that their fetuses have a life-threatening or disabling medical condition.
“[T]he Court finds that it would be extremely rare to find a condition that could be diagnosed after 20 weeks that could not have been diagnosed earlier,” Teilborg wrote in a 15-page order allowing the ban to go into effect Aug. 2.
House Bill 2036, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 12, bans abortions on or after 20 weeks, “except in cases of 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.”
In their federal lawsuit earlier this month, three doctors argued that women typically undergo fetal testing at 18 to 20 weeks, giving them little to no time to make the difficult decision of whether to abort should the test results indicate a fatal or disabling condition.
“Accepting these statements as true, while H.B. 2036 will make it necessary to make an immediate decision as to whether or not to have an abortion in some cases, such a time limitation cannot be construed to be a substantial obstacle to the right to make the abortion decision itself,” Teilborg wrote.
Fetuses are generally considered viable between 23 and 24 weeks, according to the ruling.
Teilborg added that the state “has shown a legitimate interest in limiting abortions past 20 weeks gestational age” based on “uncontradicted and credible evidence” that fetuses feel pain during an abortion by at least 20 weeks.
Arizona also has an interest in protecting the health of pregnant women, who face the highest risk of abortion complications after 20 weeks, Teilborg ruled.
He rejected the plaintiffs’ bid to declare the 20-week ban unconstitutional and bar its enforcement.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the judge for upholding what it deemed “the most extreme abortion ban in the country.”
“We will do everything we can to stop this law from going into effect and to prevent politicians from interfering with decisions that should be made by a woman, her family and her doctor,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights represented the physicians and their patients in the underlying lawsuit.