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What You Need to Know About Arizona Supreme Court Abortion Ruling

A recent ruling from the Arizona Supreme Court was an exercise in judicial modesty.
Jake Warner
Written by
A baby boy holds his parent's finger

Abortion is dominating headlines again.

Last week, furor spilled over yet again, with headlines like “Arizona Reinstates 160-Year-Old Abortion Ban” from The New York Times after the Arizona Supreme Court issued its decision in Planned Parenthood Arizona v. Mayes. The court was accused of legislating “from the bench” and rejecting “the will of the people.” President Biden called the law in question “cruel.”

These characterizations are wrong.

The decision’s critics also include former Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who said the ruling was “not the outcome I would have preferred.” But in 2022, the former governor, when reaffirming the state’s long-held pro-life law, said, “It has been said that a society should be judged by the way they care for the vulnerable among us. In Arizona, we will continue to protect life to the greatest extent possible.”

I argued the case before the Arizona Supreme Court in December. There are two things you should know about this case and the court’s decision.

The decision exemplifies judicial modesty—not judicial activism

Arizonans have chosen to protect life for decades.

The state’s pre-Roe law protects unborn children from the moment of conception. The law was passed in 1864 and codified as a territorial law in 1901 before Arizona became a state. It was then reenacted in 1977. When the state passed a law protecting life after 15 weeks gestation in 2022, the law specifically stated that it did not repeal the pre-Roe law at issue in this case. The people of Arizona, through their elected representatives, have repeatedly affirmed protecting life.

Like all responsible courts, the Arizona Supreme Court simply upheld the law as enacted by the state legislature. That’s what courts are supposed to do. It’s judicial modesty, not judicial activism.

Arizona’s law recognizes the truth about life

Life is a human right. The court’s decision protects that right for unborn children in Arizona.

Since Roe v. Wade invented a constitutional right to abortion in 1973, more than 50 years of scientific advancement has left no doubt that life begins at conception—and that governments have a compelling interest in protecting unborn children at every stage of development.

At just six weeks, an unborn baby’s heart begins to beat. At eight weeks, she has fingers and toes. And at 10 weeks her unique fingerprints begin to form.

What critics of the law and the court’s decision fail to recognize is that each human being is made in the image of God—that every life is precious, endowed with purpose, and worth defending.

Gov. Ducey was right in 2022. Unless the most vulnerable among us are protected, we do not live in a fully just society.

ADF will continue working to ensure life is protected

In courtrooms, legislatures, and the public square—in which there may be no more contentious issue than the sanctity of human life—ADF will keep working to see life treated as a human right.

As critics continue to smear my state’s pro-life law as a thing of the past contrary to modern sensibilities, they would do well to remember that they are only free to publish their mischaracterizations thanks to another old law—one much older than 160 years.

Jake Warner
Jake Warner
Senior Counsel
Jake Warner serves as legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom’s Appellate Team.