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White House criticises Arizona's abortion ban

2022-09-25 HKT 01:19
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  • Abortion rights activists protest in Tucson, Arizona. Photo: AFP
    Abortion rights activists protest in Tucson, Arizona. Photo: AFP
The White House on Saturday blasted a court ruling in Arizona that imposes a near-complete ban on abortions in the southwestern US state as "catastrophic, dangerous and unacceptable."

On Friday, a judge in Arizona's Pima County had ruled that the stricter ban -- imposed in 1864 and expanded by a 1901 law, years before Arizona became a state -- must be enforced.

"If this decision stands, health care providers would face imprisonment of up to five years for fulfilling their duty of care; survivors of rape and incest would be forced to bear the children of their assaulters; and women with medical conditions would face dire health risks," spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

The Arizona decision sparked outrage from abortion providers and seemed sure to plunge the thorny issue deeper into the national debate ahead of midterm elections in November.

The ruling "has the practical and deplorable result of sending Arizonans back nearly 150 years," said Brittany Fonteno, president of the Arizona branch of Planned Parenthood, the country's largest provider of reproductive services.

"No archaic law should dictate our reproductive freedom," she said in a statement.

The ruling from Judge Kellie Johnson came in a case filed in Arizona seeking clarification after the US Supreme Court in June overturned the constitutional right to abortion but left it to the states to set new parameters.

The 1864 ban in Arizona, which permits abortions only when a woman's life is in danger, had been blocked by injunction since 1973, when the US high court first found there was a constitutional right to abortion.

The Pima County ruling came a day before a ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, passed earlier by the Arizona legislature, was to take effect. That law was supported by Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican.

But with Republican-led states across the country imposing even more rigid rules since the Supreme Court decision, some in Arizona wanted to go further.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, asked the court to "harmonise" conflicting state laws, and he welcomed the Pima County ruling.

"We applaud the court for upholding the will of the legislature and providing clarity and uniformity on this important issue," he said in a statement, the AZCentral.com news website reported.

Planned Parenthood had argued before Johnson that a number of abortion-related laws passed in Arizona since 1973 effectively created a right to abortion, but the judge was unswayed.

AZCentral reported that in the many years the 1864 law was in effect, numerous doctors and amateur abortion providers received jail terms for violating it.

This year's decision by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court has been seized on by Democrats, who expect it to anger and mobilise women to vote against Republicans in the fall.

Several special elections held since that ruling have shown significantly higher female participation, and some Republican politicians, once absolutists, have begun to tiptoe around the subject.

In Arizona, a Donald Trump-backed candidate for the US Senate, Blake Masters, once described abortion as "genocide" and called for a federal "personhood" law for fetuses.

But as he slips in the polls, Masters has softened his tone and removed some of the toughest anti-abortion language on his website.

He now voices opposition only to "very late-term and partial birth abortion," two rare procedures. (AFP)