Arizona's Abortion Consent Act upheld

Georgene Rice interviews Deborah Sheasby, legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund, regarding a recent decision by the Arizona Court of Appeals.  The court found Arizona’s Abortion Consent Act constitutional and lifted a judge’s order that had stalled its implementation after Planned Parenthood filed suit.  ADF had joined with others in appealing the judge’s order that tied up the new law which was passed to protect the health and safety of pregnant women and their preborn babies.

Georgene: First, tell us what the bill attempted to do and Planned Parenthood challenged.

Deborah: It was a very common sense bill with four main provisions. First, making sure that woman who are considering abortion are given full and accurate information, have an opportunity to have an in-person consultation with a physician, and then are given at least 24 hours to consider that information.  It was consistent with the consultations that take place with any medical procedure you may have.

The second deals with parental consent. Arizona already has a statute requiring parental consent for a minor having an abortion, but there was no safeguard to assure that the parent’s signature wasn’t forged. This Act requires that signature be notarized to be sure that it was not falsified in any way. Third was for the patient’s safety to be sure that nondoctors would not be performing surgical abortions.

The final provision was for protecting the right of conscience—the religious freedom of health care professionals—so they don’t have to choose between their jobs and doing something they feel is morally wrong or against their religious beliefs.

Georgene: When was the law passed and when were the objections filed by Planned Parenthood? Was Planned Parenthood opposed to all four of those elements?

Deborah: The Act was passed and signed into law in 2009. Planned Parenthood claimed all four provisions were in violation of Arizona’s Constitution. A lower court ruling prevented the law from going into effect later that year. We appealed that decision and it came before the Court of Appeals in June of 2011. In August, they upheld the law stating that protecting women does not violate Arizona’s Constitution.

Georgene: What happens now? Is there any indication that Planned Parenthood plans to challenge it further?

Deborah: We haven’t heard anything yet, but I would be quite surprised if they don’t at least try to appeal this decision to the Arizona Supreme Court. The Supreme Court doesn’t have to take the case.

Georgene: I suppose one of the arguments Planned Parenthood made was that it was an undue hardship on the parent and the child seeking the abortion to require the notarized signature.

Deborah: Interestingly, Planned Parenthood tried to claim that they somehow represented the interest of the parents who would not want their signature notarized,  or that a notary be involved in the process. The court said that it didn’t make sense that Planned Parenthood was protecting the parents interest because not requiring the notarization weakens the parent’s rights. They upheld the provision stating the argument did not have legal merit.

Georgene: What was Planned Parenthood’s objection to the notion of a right of conscience? It seems a common sense approach to those who find the practice objectionable.

Deborah: Right. If a physician has a conscientious objection due to moral or religious beliefs they should not be required to perform that procedure. Planned Parenthood took the outrageous position that a woman who wants an abortion should be able to force the provider to give it to her. The court said that regardless of the right that a woman has to have the procedure, she can’t compel someone to provide it to her.

Georgene: Will the provisions of this law now be in place in Arizona or do you have to wait to see if the Supreme Court will take the issue up?

Deborah: There is a little bit of time required for the technical part of the law to take effect, and Planned Parenthood has 30 days in which to decide to appeal, during which they can ask the court to require the law not go into effect until the appeal process is complete.  So, the law is on the right track toward being implemented, but it could be a month or two before we can see it enforced.

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