A federal judge in Arizona on Monday temporarily blocked a state law granting “personhood” to unborn fetuses from taking effect.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Rayes wrote in his ruling that Arizona’s law was vague and therefore deprived plaintiffs of their due process rights.
Rayes also wrote the defendants who supported it failed to show the policy would not cause injury because its impact on abortion access was unclear, especially in comparison to other state laws that were less strict.
“A law is unconstitutionally vague if its application is so unclear that people of ordinary intelligence cannot figure out in advance how to comply with it,” Rayes wrote, noting that labeling the unborn a person may constitute a homicide if they were aborted. “The consequences of imprecision are potentially sweeping and severe.”
Abortion rights activists who have worked in opposition to the law hailed the court’s ruling as a victory on Monday night.
Civia Tamarkin, the president of the National Council of Jewish Women in Arizona, said “personhood laws have broad potential for criminalizing pregnant people and allowing state surveillance and regulation of their conduct.”
“Under these laws, women have been jailed for miscarriages and stillbirths, confined to institutions, and forced to undergo court-ordered Caesarean sections,” she said in a statement. “We are determined to fight the oppression and hypocrisy of laws that would grant constitutional rights to a developing fetus by denying them to the person carrying it.”
Arizona passed the law in 2021, granting the unborn “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons” at the point of conception. It also bars any woman from getting an abortion because of the sex, race or genetic abnormality of the fetus.
The statute was immediately challenged by opponents. The U.S. District Court issued a partial preliminary injunction on the law in September, effectively halting it from taking effect.
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month and the nearly 50-year constitutional right to abortion, the case in Arizona resumed legal proceedings.
The defendants filed a new motion and the U.S. District Court was also notified to reconsider the case in light of the Supreme Court’s recent overturning of Roe v. Wade.
But Rayes on Monday said the “personhood” law is vague and its effect on other laws is unclear because the law “either does absolutely nothing, or it does something” by defining the unborn as a person.
Rayes pointed to the fact that after the Supreme Court’s ruling, another Arizona statue banning abortions after 15 weeks took effect, as did a 1901 law banning nearly all abortions.
Even those laws would still allow some abortions, but under the “personhood” law, it’s unclear if performing an abortion to save the life of a mother would even apply, because it might be considered homicide.
Jessica Sklarsky, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement that the court on Monday blocked an “unthinkably extreme abortion ban” in a new landscape for Arizonans.
“The Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision overturning Roe v. Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need,” Sklarsky said. “People should not have to live in a state of fear when accessing or providing essential healthcare.”