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Latest Arizona abortion rights battle centered on 'personhood’ law

Arizona capitol
Posted at 5:33 PM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-08 21:18:48-04

PHOENIX — “We are packing our office into boxes right now,” said Dr. Paul Isaacson. ”It’s sad. It’s been my career and my life’s work.”

Local providers, like Issacson, are halting abortion services for now as some fight alongside the ACLU of Arizona and other groups for abortion rights.

The latest debate centers around the so-called 'personhood’ law.

The 2021 statute, also known as the “interpretation policy”, says an "unborn child at every stage of development" has all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other ‘persons'.

Abortion rights groups are seeking an injunction blocking the law.

ABC15 was able to listen in to oral arguments Friday in federal court.

“Our arguments are that the law is unconstitutionally vague,” said ACLU-AZ Director of Program and Strategy, Victoria Lopez. “It doesn't provide notice. It doesn't provide due process for physicians that would be subject to this law.”

The plaintiffs, which include the ACLU, are concerned the statute could be used to pursue assault or child endangerment charges and criminalize abortion providers.

But Assistant Solicitor General Kate Sawyer with the Arizona Attorney General's Office told a judge, the AG’s office doesn’t think the statute could be used to pursue those charges when it comes to abortion.

Sawyer ultimately said the statute can be kept in mind when constructing laws, but it does not change the definition of "person" in the criminal code.

“I think that the state's arguments don’t lend any additional clarity to where we are,” said Lopez.

ABC15 started reaching out to the AG’s office last week asking for an interview, we were denied again Friday. Instead, we were sent this statement by Brittni Thomason, a spokesperson for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

“Our office made its best legal arguments as to what we believe the state of the law is. We will continue to defend Arizona’s laws for protecting innocent life.”

ABC15 asked the ACLU of Arizona if the injunction is granted, would providers feel safe enough to open their doors.

“We hope so, but I think that we have to proceed with caution,” said Lopez.

Arizona has been in legal limbo, with some, including the AG and Interim Maricopa County Attorney, saying a territorial law banning almost all abortions is in place.

There is an injunction involving that law, that specifically mentions the Pima County Attorney and state Attorney General’s Office.

The ACLU today called it “unenforceable”. The AG’s office has already said they are working to get the injunction lifted.

Interim MCAO, Rachel Mitchell, was brought up in court today. The AG’s office said she’s not looking to the personhood statute as a new way to prosecute providers. Mitchell told ABC15, in the past few weeks, that her main focus was the statute on the books. She said that is the territorial law, 13-3603.

The judge ended Friday’s hearing without announcing a decision.