Federal Court Allows Arizona Doctors to Challenge Abortion Ban for “Genetic Abnormalities”

Federal Appeals Court Grants Arizona Doctors Challenge to Law Banning Abortions for Fetal Genetic Defects

Doctors’ Legal Standing to be Prosecuted

A federal appeals court recently granted Arizona doctors the right to challenge a state law that bans abortions sought because of fetal genetic defects. While the judges acknowledged Attorney General Kris Mayes has stated she does not intend to enforce this law, there is at least one county attorney who has said he intends to enforce “restrictive abortion laws,” making the doctors’ legal standing credible. The law, passed in 2021, makes it a Class 6 felony with a one-year prison term to terminate a pregnancy if the woman is seeking the procedure solely because of a fetal genetic defect. The doctors are also at risk of economic losses since they are unable to provide medical services that they would otherwise offer, due to the law.

Constitutionality of the Law

Monday’s ruling does not determine the constitutionality of the law itself; rather, it allows for a trial to take place. The statute is being defended by the anti-abortion Alliance Defending Freedom, while several doctors who perform abortions, the Arizona Medical Association, and several groups supporting abortion rights are among the groups opposing the law. The case has been complicated by several factors, including the Arizona Supreme Court set to hear arguments in December about whether abortions are legal through the 15th week of pregnancy, an initiative drive to ask voters in 2024 to codify the right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution, and Gov. Katie Hobbs’ order stripping individual county attorneys of their ability to prosecute such cases.

Vagueness of Law

This law is particularly contentious due to its vague “reason regulation” which makes it a crime to terminate a pregnancy “knowing that the abortion is sought solely because of a genetic abnormality.” Doctors argue they are “over-complying” with the law due to its unclear nature, and that it forces them to assess what role a genetic abnormality plays in a patient’s decision to have an abortion. Questions remain about how doctors can be deemed to “know” or “believe” what is in the mind of a patient and what conditions may be considered a “fetal abnormality.”

Opposing Views

The Alliance Defending Freedom argues that the doctors have shown no “credible threat” of being prosecuted, while suggesting that the abortion industry is using this case to profit from abortions targeting children for their genetic makeup, physical appearance, and other inherent immutable traits. On the other hand, supporters of abortion rights argue that no child should be discriminated against due to genetic defects, and the law would deny the right to abortion in cases where the procedure is sought solely due to a fetal genetic defect.


While the federal appeals court’s decision allows for doctors to challenge the law, the constitutionality of the statute itself is yet to be decided. The opposing views of both sides show the contentious nature of the issue and highlight the need for a proper legal framework that is clear and concise.

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