As confusion over abortion laws reigns in Arizona, medical association and doctor sue to restart procedure

Dr. Paul Isaacson’s medical practice website refers patients seeking abortions to his Las Vegas clinic.

By Ray Stern ||Arizona Republic

An Arizona abortion doctor and the American Medical Association have filed a lawsuit seeking to neutralize the state’s territorial-era anti-abortion law and allow physicians to restart the procedure in the state.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona and Perkins Coie LLP law firm represent the plaintiffs; the Maricopa County Superior Court has yet to assign a judge to the case.

Dr. Paul Isaacson, who provides abortions, and the groups want more than “clarity” on the multitude of abortion laws now on the books, said ACLU attorney Jared Keenan. They want it made clear that physicians can still perform abortions legally because the laws can coexist, he said.

Isaacson’s medical practice website currently refers patients seeking abortions to his Las Vegas clinic.

All Arizona providers have stopped abortion services after the U.S. Supreme Court’s action overturning Roe v. Wade in June led to two rulings in recent weeks that revived the territorial ban the state had enforced until 1973. The ban, codified in 1864 with the Arizona Territory’s first statues, mandates two-to-five years in prison for anyone who helps facilitate an abortion.

Following a request by state Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Pima County Superior Court judge lifted the 1973 injunction on the ban, then rejected an emergency stay on the injunction that planned Planned Parenthood Arizona had requested.

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While the lifting of the injunction could get appealed, abortion-rights advocates filed Monday’s lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court with the goal of getting a court to take the fangs out of the territorial law for physicians, and instead make it apply only to non-physicians who perform abortions.

The way to do this, the lawyers argue, is to “harmonize” the existing laws with a declaratory judgment “to allow licensed physicians to provide abortion care subject to certain restrictions,” the suit states.

Planned Parenthood made this argument in its unsuccessful emergency motion last week and earlier in countering Brnovich’s original motion to lift the injunction, but Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson declined to deliberate the issue, saying it wasn’t germane to the issue of in the injunction.

However, reconciling the laws was “certainly an issue that must be addressed,” Johnson said in her Friday ruling. The final decision is likely to come from the Arizona Supreme Court.

Brnovich, abortion advocates want special session of Legislature to address abortion laws

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