Appeals Court Tosses Arizona's 20-Week Abortion Ban

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 21 2013 3:07 PM

Appeals Court Strikes Down Arizona's 20-Week Abortion Ban

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A pro-life protester puts a "LIFE" sticker over her mouth while protesting at the Supreme Court.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

And the first of the recent string of strict state abortion laws falls, via the Associated Press:

A federal court in San Francisco Tuesday struck down Arizona's ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law violates a string of U.S. Supreme Court rulings starting with Roe v. Wade that guarantees a woman's right to an abortion before a fetus is able to survive outside the womb. That's generally considered to be about 24 weeks. Normal pregnancies run about 40 weeks.
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More than a half dozen other states have recently passed similar laws that bar abortion beginning at 20 or 22 weeks, measures that directly challenge the existing legal consensus that a state can't ban the procedure until after a fetus can hypothetically survive on its own outside the womb. (The general threshold for viability among medical experts is 24 weeks, or at the very outside, 23 weeks.) More recently, North Dakota and Arkansas have passed even stricter legislation that amounts to bans at the 6-week and 12-week marks, respectively. Supporters of those laws, however, seem to concede that they're destined to be overturned by an appellate court.

Today's ruling, however, applies only to the nine Western states within the 9th Circuit, meaning that the vast majority of the state laws in question aren't directly impacted by the appellate decision. (Idaho is the only other state in the region with a similar ban.)

The rest of the Slate staff will likely have more analysis a bit later, but for now you can check out Emily Bazelon's piece from back in November arguing that Arizona's ban was clearly unconstitutional, and predicting today's appellate decision: "The Arizona law defies the spirit of Roe v. Wade and the letter of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court’s 1992 affirmation of the core of Roe, which allows the state to regulate abortion before viability but to bar it only after that threshold has passed," Bazelon explained then.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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