* Last time Supreme Court heard abortion case was 2007
* Arizona faults "clear infringement" on state authority
* Abortion rights activists laud Supreme Court's refusal
(Adds context, related court case before justices, paragraphs
By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON, Jan 13 The U.S. Supreme Court on
Monday declined to hear Arizona's appeal of a lower-court ruling
that declared unconstitutional a state law banning abortions
beginning at 20 weeks of fetal gestation, meaning the
restrictive measure is struck down.
The Arizona law, signed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer in
2012, had been considered one of the toughest in the United
States in imposing limits on abortion.
A May 2013 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
in San Francisco invalidated the law, saying it violated
"unalterably clear" legal precedents. The high court justices'
decision not to review the state's appeal means the lower-court
ruling remains intact.
Brewer's spokesman, Andrew Wilder, said the Supreme Court
was wrong not to hear the state's appeal, saying the action was
"a clear infringement on the authority of states to implement
critical life-affirming laws."
Abortion rights activists praised the Supreme Court's
action, but expressed alarm at efforts at the state level in the
to impose limits on abortion.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in
1973, but lawmakers in more conservative states in recent years
have enacted laws that seek to place restrictions on the
procedure, especially on late-term abortions.
These lawmakers have cited hotly debated medical research
suggesting a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of gestation.
Lawyers for Arizona offered those arguments before the Supreme
The Arizona law prohibited physicians from performing
abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in medical
emergencies, and could send doctors who perform them to jail.
Abortion rights groups said the Arizona law was more
restrictive than similar ones in other states because the way it
measures gestation means it would bar abortions two weeks
earlier than in other states that set the limit at 20 weeks.
Three abortion providers challenged the Arizona law in
court. The appeals court had earlier blocked the law from taking
effect, pending the legal challenge.
Wilder said Brewer was seeking to make Arizona "one of the
most pro-life states," adding: "Governor Brewer will continue to
fight to protect Arizona women, families and our most vulnerable
population: unborn children."
The president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America,
Cecile Richards, said in a statement: "A dangerous and blatantly
unconstitutional law like Arizona's abortion ban should have
never passed in the first place.
"Today, the court did the right thing, but women's health is
still on the docket - not only at the Supreme Court, but in
active cases all across the country," Richards added.
Nancy Northup, head of the Center for Reproductive Rights,
said women's rights must not be "legislated away by politicians
who are hell-bent on restricting access to the full range of
reproductive health care."
The Supreme Court justices, as is their custom, did not
explain why they refused the Arizona appeal. The last time the
high court took up an abortion case was 2007, when it ruled 5-4
to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.
The high court on Wednesday tackles a related matter when it
hears arguments in a challenge by anti-abortion protesters to a
Massachusetts law that seeks to ensure access for patients at
clinics that offer abortions.
The law imposed a 35-foot (11-meter) zone at clinics that
only patients, staff, passersby and emergency services are
allowed to enter. The protesters said this violated their
constitutional rights, including freedom of speech, by
preventing them from standing on the sidewalk and speaking to
people entering clinics.
In the landmark Roe v. Wade case in 1973, the court said
that women have a right to have an abortion up until the time
when the fetus becomes viable. In a 1992 ruling, Planned
Parenthood v. Casey, the court clarified that an abortion
regulation can be legal as long as it does not impose an "undue
burden" on women seeking the procedure.
Arizona's law bans abortions up to a month before the point
of viability, which medical experts say is around the
23-to-24-week mark. The state has a separate law banning
abortions after a fetus is viable except when the mother's life
is in danger.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who argued on
behalf of the law before the lower courts, called the Supreme
Court's refusal to hear the state's appeal disappointing.
"Nevertheless, safeguarding the health and welfare of
mothers and defending the dignity of life at all stages is a
just cause and a duty of government. Today's decision does not
relieve government of that duty," Montgomery said.
Several states, including Texas, have recently enacted laws
restricting abortions. One of the provisions of the Texas law,
which has also been challenged, requires doctors to have
admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of
the clinic where the abortion is performed in case there are
The Arizona case is Horne v. Isaacson, U.S. Supreme Court,
(Additional reporting by David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing by
Will Dunham, Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)