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Judge to decide on abortion wait period

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Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 5:56 pm

A federal judge agreed to decide by a week from Wednesday whether to allow the state to start requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can terminate her pregnancy.

A federal judge agreed Tuesday to decide by a week from Wednesday whether to allow the state to start requiring a 24-hour waiting period before a woman can terminate her pregnancy.

Judge David Campbell said he will hear arguments next week from attorneys for the Center for Reproductive Rights that the requirement, part of a more comprehensive law restricting abortion, should be precluded from taking effect until a full-blown trial on the constitutionality of the statute.

Suzanne Novak, who is representing the Tucson Women's Center, said allowing any delay, for any period of time, will endanger the health of patients. She said there is evidence that some women won't be able to make a second trip to a clinic, meaning they will be denied their constitutional rights.

But Deborah Sheasby, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, said her organization and others who oppose abortion want the new law to take effect as scheduled on Wednesday, the same day Campbell is set to rule.

"These are common-sense protections for women," she said. "They deserve a chance to have full and accurate information before they have this abortion procedure and 24 hours to consider that information."

Clinics file lawsuits over abortion law

Sheasby and others who support the new law, however, may not get a say in the legal fight, at least not now.

Technically speaking, the lawsuit is against the state and the Arizona Medical Board. And they are both represented by Mary O'Grady, the state's solicitor general who has to file legal papers later this week about why she believes the law is constitutional.

Sheasby filed legal papers Tuesday asking to let other anti-abortion groups, such as the Catholic Medical Association and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, intercede immediately.

CAP President Cathi Herrod said the move to intervene is not because the anti-abortion groups do not trust O'Grady's office to defend the law. But she said the doctors' interest in having the 24-hour waiting period take effect is different than the state.

"These doctors see the aftermath of abortion, these doctors treat women who have been harmed by abortion," Herrod said. "So these doctors have firsthand experience with women who have not been given full and accurate information about the abortion procedure."

They may not get a chance to make that case - at least not this coming week.

Campbell questioned whether it would be fair to the challengers of the law to let another group intervene now, with a hearing on their request for a preliminary injunction just days away. Novak told the judge she would be happy to debate whether they have legal standing to become part of the case - but only after next week's hearing and only after he issues his ruling.

Novak's lawsuit is just one of two aimed at various pieces of a law approved by legislators earlier this year to impose new requirements on abortion. A separate case was filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, with a hearing next Tuesday on that organization's request to block other parts of the law.

Aside from the waiting period, among the provisions at issue are:

A ban on nurse-practitioners performing surgical abortions.

Requiring minors to have a parental consent form notarized.

Allowing pharmacists and other health care providers to refuse on moral grounds to dispense contraceptives and the "morning after" pill.

The waiting period is about more than the delay. The law requires that certain information about the procedure be given ahead of time to women, in person, which means two trips to the clinic.

Novak said some women won't be able to come back 24 hours later, which means a delay in the procedure, which makes it more risky.

Some women, she said, cannot get time off from work. Novak said others are in "abusive relationships," making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to get away for a second clinic visit.

And Novak said it's also unnecessary.

"The provision assumes that women have not thought about this before they go into their procedure," she said. "That is really insulting to a lot of women who have made this decision, struggled with this decision, consulted people in their lives."

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