U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Arizona's Abortion Ban Case

January 14, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a controversial Arizona abortion case that could have had a severe impact on the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling.

The high court on Monday did not comment on why it declined to hear the case.

The Arizona lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenged a 2012 law that banned women from aborting most fetuses with a gestational age of 20 weeks. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that House Bill 2036 was in violation of Roe vs. Wade, and HB 2036 is not currently in effect.

With the high court’s decision, the appeals-court ruling overturning the state law will stand as the final decision in the case.

“The Supreme Court soundly declined to review the 9th Circuit’s sound decision that Arizona’s abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional under long-standing precedent,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This ensures that no Arizona women’s lives or health are harmed by this callous and unconstitutional law.”

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery filed the petition asking the high court to hear the case, arguing that unborn fetuses are capable of feeling pain as early as 16 to 20 weeks and that women are more susceptible to health problems as a consequence of abortions later in pregnancy. Montgomery on Monday said abortion proponents should not be cheering the high court’s decision.

“The increasing body of medical evidence that babies at 20 weeks are capable of feeling every rip and tear as they are severed from a mother’s womb and that women face an exponentially greater risk of death at 20 weeks erases the facade that abortion only deals with tissue and is safer than delivery,” he said. “Regardless of the rationale for denying review, today’s decision by the Supreme Court is disappointing.”

Montgomery in his petition had said that more recent scientific evidence of fetal pain should compel the court to reconsider a ruling made based on 1973 science.

Roe vs. Wade legalized abortion, stating that medical decisions during the first trimester (the first 12 weeks of gestation) could be made by a woman’s doctor. After that, states could regulate abortions during the second trimester only on issues relating to the mother’s health, and could ban them altogether in the third trimester.

The ruling has made it difficult for states to ban abortions before a fetus would be able to survive on its own outside the womb, generally considered to be at about 22-24 weeks.

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