Ben Johnson

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Supreme Court refuses to hear appeal in case striking down 20-week abortion ban

Ben Johnson
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WASHINGTON, D.C., January 13, 2014 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to review a lower court ruling that struck down an Arizona law banning abortions after 20 weeks.

Justices announced this morning they would not hear the state's appeal of Horne v. Isaacson. In that case the lower court declared that the 20-week abortion ban violated a woman's right to abortion until the point of viability, at 24 weeks.

Governor Jan Brewer signed HB 2036, “The Mother’s Health and Safety Act,” into law on April 12, 2012. The act restricted abortions performed 20 weeks after the mother's last menstruation or later on the grounds that such abortions are more likely to injure the mother and that an unborn baby at 20 weeks' gestation is able to feel pain. The ACLU promptly filed suit.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg upheld the law in July 2012, ruling that the notion that children can feel pain by 20 weeks was “uncontradicted.”

But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted an injunction against the law that August. The following May, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled that the legislation violated Supreme Court rulings that confer a “right” to abortion before the point of viability. The landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling defined viability as 28 weeks, but the court later revised this date to 24 weeks in 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The state argued that since the bill allowed abortions if a pregnancy posed the “serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function,” it was not a full ban but a regulation, permitted by Supreme Court rulings. Appeals judges rejected that notion.

Judge Andrew J. Kleinfeld, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, wrote, “Were the statute limited to protecting fetuses from unnecessary infliction of excruciating pain before their death, Arizona might regulate abortions at or after 20 weeks by requiring anesthetization of the fetuses about to be killed, much as it requires anesthetization of prisoners prior to killing them when the death penalty is carried out.”

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The Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco, is considered the nation's most liberal appeals court and is among the most likely to have its rulings reversed. One of the judges on the court, Andrew D. Hurwitz, claimed to play a role in paving the way for the original Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in 1973.

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin filed an amicus curiae brief, signed by 30 female pro-life legislators and pro-life women's groups, urging the Supreme Court to take up the case.

The justices did not explain their decision not to hear the case, which is normal when rejecting appeals.

Governor Brewer's spokesman Andrew Wilder told the press the high court's decision “is wrong and is a clear infringement on the authority of states to implement critical life-affirming laws.”

National pro-life leaders shared those sentiments. “The Ninth Circuit Court clearly erred. The law should reflect our natural recoil from this type of brutality,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Arizona legislators, led by pro-life State Rep. Kimberly Yee, were acting on the will of the people when they enacted this compassionate, common sense legislation to protect babies at 20 weeks.”

Ten states ban abortions after 20 weeks. Last June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a national ban on abortion at 20 weeks by a 228-196 vote. Last week the bill's senate sponsor, Lindsey Graham, told LifeSiteNews.com exclusively he hoped pro-life activists would introduce 20-week bans “in every state possible” to build momentum for the national bill.

Polls have consistently found a majority of Americans oppose abortion after 20 weeks, and polls also find women and young people are the most likely to support a 20-week abortion ban.

“Twenty weeks is more than halfway through pregnancy and the point at which babies have all their organs, hear and respond to their mother’s voices, and can even feel pain,” Dannenfelser said today. “A growing number of Americans simply reject the horror of late abortion and believe a reasonable line should be draw.”

The pro-life movement has promised not to give up at the state or national level. "Governor Brewer will continue to fight to protect Arizona women, families and our most vulnerable population: unborn children,” Wilder said.

The Supreme Court's last decision on abortion was seven years ago in 2007's Gonzales v. Carhart, a 5-4 ruling that upheld the federal partial birth abortion ban.



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