Federal judge blocks Arizona law granting rights of ‘personhood’ to unborn children

In 2021, Arizona passed a law that extends “personhood,” and all of the rights that come with it, to unborn children, and, of course, abortion providers sued to block that law over fears that it could be used to prosecute them.

Now a federal judge in Arizona, who had previously declined to block the “personhood” provision, has reversed course and issued an injunction to block it as it has now been deemed “unconstitutionally vague,” Breitbart reported.

The judge, in siding with the challengers, pointed to the “uncertainty” created by the law in terms of how broadly or narrowly it will be enforced and further made note of how the “personhood” provision appears to be in conflict with other already existing civil and criminal statutes.

The law in question states in the relevant part that all Arizona laws “shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge, on behalf of an unborn child at every stage of development, all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state.”

“Personhood” for unborn children blocked

In his 17-page decision, U.S. District Judge Douglas Rayes suggested that he had been incorrect to rely upon a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that upheld a similar law in Missouri in deciding last year not to block the “personhood” provision, which he described throughout his decision as the “Interpretation Policy” of Arizona laws.

He then turned to the rules against vagueness to determine that, under proper scrutiny, the Arizona law was “unconstitutionally vague” because it created “uncertainty” among Arizonans about how the “personhood” provision might be applied in any number of potential cases and issues.

Indeed, Judge Rayes quoted the state’s attorneys as admitting that it was “anyone’s guess” how the law might be applied, and wrote, “And that is the problem. When the punitive and regulatory weight of the entire Arizona code is involved, plaintiffs should not have to guess at whether their conduct is on the right or the wrong side of the law.”

To further bolster his reasoning, the judge also pointed to the current “murky” situation regarding which of several abortion laws in the state is superior to the others, and noted existing statutory discrepancies about the definition of a “person” in which unborn children are clearly excluded or included, and acknowledged that while abortion providers likely wouldn’t face homicide charges — abortion is explicitly excluded from homicide laws — they could nonetheless potentially face charges under statutes pertaining to assault and child abuse or endangerment.

Judge Rayes wrote, “Medical providers should not have to guess about whether the otherwise lawful performance of their jobs could lead to criminal, civil, or professional liability solely based on how literally or maximalist state licensing, law enforcement, and judicial officials might construe the Interpretation Policy’s command.”

In the end, the judge urged the state legislature to further clarify the extent to which the rights of “personhood” applied to the unborn via changes to existing statutes, but in the meantime issued a preliminary injunction to block enforcement of the provision until the case has been fully concluded.

Unclear if state will appeal or not

Abortion supporters were quick to celebrate the ruling from Judge Rayes, according to the Arizona Republic, but it was unknown at this point what the state will do in response to the court’s decision.

“Today’s ruling was based on an interpretation of Arizona law that our office did not agree with, and we are carefully considering our next steps,” Brittni Thomason, a spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office, said after the decision was issued. “Our focus remains on bringing clarity to the law for Arizonans.”

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