Judge: Women no more than 15 weeks pregnant can get abortions

By Howard Fischer || Capitol Media Services 

Arizona women who are no more than 15 weeks pregnant will be able to continue to get legal abortions through at least the end of the year, if not beyond.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Joseph Mikitish signed an order Tuesday barring Attorney General Mark Brnovich from trying to enforce a territorial-era statute that outlaws virtually all abortions for at least 45 days after there has been a final ruling in a challenge to that statute brought by Planned Parenthood Arizona.

That case is now before the state Court of Appeals, which is not due to get all legal briefings before Nov. 17. And there then could be a hearing.

After that, whichever side loses is virtually certain to seek Supreme Court review, which could take weeks.

And even if the justices side with Brnovich, his 45-day promise takes the issue into 2023.

Tuesday’s order was a result of a deal between Brnovich and attorneys for the Arizona Medical Association and Paul Isaacson, who performs abortions. They have their own separate challenge in Mikitish’s court to the territorial-era law, which bans abortions except to save the life of the mother.

The deal benefits Brnovich because it means his attorneys won’t have to defend two separate lawsuits on the legality of that territorial law at the same time. And, potentially more significant, it precludes the possibility of two conflicting rulings on the issue.

What the challengers in the Maricopa County case get is not having to pursue their lawsuit claiming that abortions performed by doctors are legal through the 15th week of pregnancy. Instead, they can wait to see whether Planned Parenthood achieves the same result.

At the same time, it preserves their ability to renew their lawsuit, even if the Supreme Court ultimately rules against Planned Parenthood.

That gives them the chance to advance their own legal theories about why abortions performed by doctors should remain legal through at least 15 weeks. And, if nothing else, it gives them a new opportunity to seek a further stay of the territorial-era law even longer into 2023.

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