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New abortion restriction challenged in lawsuit

Abortion-rights groups went to court Thursday to try to block a new Arizona law’s general ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Arizona law is to take effect on Aug. 2 unless blocked. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed the legislation in April.

Similar to ones enacted in a half-dozen other states, the Arizona law is among the Republican-led Legislature’s efforts targeting abortion. Other Arizona laws impose waiting periods and other requirements on providers and their clinics.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation filed the lawsuit on behalf of three physicians, arguing that the 20-week ban is an unconstitutional infringement of due-process rights by banning abortions prior to viability and by endangering women’s health.

Specifically, the lawsuit in U.S. District Court contends that the law’s exception for health risks is too narrow and that the law interferes with health care at a time in pregnancy when most pregnant women undergo prenatal testing for medical conditions and anomalies.

“Some of these women will choose to terminate the pregnancy,” the lawsuit said. Under the law, “however, women wishing to have a previability abortion for these reasons at or after 20 weeks will be unable to do so.”

Arizona now permits abortions until a fetus can survive outside the womb. That’s generally considered to be 23 to 24 weeks. Full-term pregnancies last about 40 weeks.

According to statistics provided earlier this year by the state Department of Health Services, about 1 percent of the just over 11,000 abortions performed in Arizona in 2010 involved pregnancies at 20 weeks or later.

Asked to comment on the suit, Attorney General Tom Horne said his office will vigorously defend the law. Horne was one of the state and county officials named as defendants.

The Center for Arizona Policy, an anti-abortion-group that lobbied Arizona lawmakers to enact the law, said the law was part an effort to protect women from “dangerous practices” of the abortion industry.

“Once again, we supposed ‘pro-woman’ organizations fight to protect abortion-on-demand despite the serious risks abortion presents to new moms,” CAP President Cathi Herrod said of the lawsuit.

Besides the 20-week ban, the Arizona law also contains provisions that were not challenged in the lawsuit, some of which need completion of state regulations to be implemented.

Those include a requirement that the state maintain a website providing information alternatives to abortion, medical risks and descriptions and images of fetuses at various stages of development.

At least six other states previously enacted 20-week bans, although detailed provisions vary.

Under Arizona’s law, the ban would take effect at 20 weeks as determined by the attending physician “with reasonable probability.” Another provision says the calculation of gestational age starts with the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period.

Nebraska passed a 20-week ban in 2010, followed by Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and Oklahoma in 2011.

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