A few weeks before August 2, 2012, when Arizona’s law that prohibited abortion after twenty weeks (unless necessary to prevent death or a serious health risk) was to take effect, the constitutionality of the law was challenged by three Arizona doctors who perform late-term abortions. The District Court upheld the law as constitutional, finding that the state had a legitimate interest in regulating these abortions, as there was “well-documented evidence” that “an unborn child has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least twenty weeks gestational age,” and there is evidence that the highest risk to the health of the mother occurs after the twenty-week mark.
A panel of judges for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s ruling and found that Arizona’s law was unconstitutional, as it was a prohibition on a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability. The Supreme Court has now been asked to hear the case.
The current state of scientific knowledge demonstrates that a fetus feels pain beginning as early as sixteen (and quite likely by twenty) weeks gestation and that late-term abortion poses an exponential increase in risk to maternal health. Confronted with this documented evidence, the utter gruesomeness of late-term abortion (however performed), and the threats it posed to the integrity of the medical profession, the State of Arizona determined, through its duly constituted legislative authority, to protect the health of the mother and the dignity of the unborn child to be free from excruciating pain by allowing abortions after twenty weeks only when necessary to avert death or serious health risks to the mother.
The petition points out that thirteen states and United States House of Representatives have “adopted legislation limiting access to abortion beyond twenty weeks except when necessary to avert death or serious health risks to the mother.” If the Court does not believe that this evidence of fetal pain is enough to allow the Court to rule in favor of Arizona’s law on the basis of precedent, the petitioners ask the Court to reconsider their previous decisions to allow states to respond “to the developing medical evidence that late-term abortion inflicts severe pain on the unborn child and an exponentially increased health risk to the mother.”
Steven H. Aden, Senior Counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom and co-counsel in this case, believes that this law is important to protect both unborn children and their mothers:
Every innocent life deserves to be protected. Not only does this law protect children in the womb who experience horrific pain during a late-term abortion, it also protects mothers from the dangers and tremendous psychological consequences of late-term abortions.