A federal judge in the US state of Arizona has blocked a state law that grants fertilised eggs, embryos and fetuses the same “rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons”.
The ruling on Monday against the so-called “personhood” law by United States District Judge Douglas Rayes comes as state governments across the country have sought to clarify the legality of abortion after a US Supreme Court ruling in June overturned Roe v Wade, a 1973 decision that established access to a safe abortion as a right protected by the US constitution.
Rayes ruled the law, which was signed by Arizona’s governor in 2021 but was not legally enforceable prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, was too vague.
Abortion providers have argued the law does not clearly state what would be prohibited under the law and what, if any, criminal charges they could face for performing the procedure.
“The court made the right decision today by blocking this law from being used to create an unthinkably extreme abortion ban,” said Jessica Sklarsky, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights who argued the case.
“The Supreme Court’s catastrophic decision overturning Roe v Wade has unleashed chaos on the ground, leaving Arizona residents scrambling to figure out if they can get the abortion care they need.”
A spokesperson for Arizona attorney general’s office, meanwhile, said the ruling “was based on an interpretation of Arizona law that our office did not agree with, and we are carefully considering our next steps”.
As in many states, the legality of abortion remains unclear in Arizona, where the attorney general has said a pre-1901 ban on all abortions is enforceable following the fall of Roe v Wade.
Abortion providers have largely halted operations for fear of punishment under that ban, which at least one jurisdiction in the state, the populous Pima County, has blocked.
Meanwhile, a ban on abortions after 15 weeks, before many women know they are pregnant, is set to go into effect in Arizona later this year.
The ruling on Monday came as a judge in Utah granted a request from Planned Parenthood to delay implementing the state’s so-called trigger law, which was passed prior to Roe v Wade being overturned and was set to ban most abortions in the state.
The reproductive rights research group the Guttmacher Institute has labelled 26 states as “likely or certain” to ban all or most abortions following the fall of Roe v Wade.
Courts in at least four states – Idaho, Utah, Kentucky and Michigan – have temporarily blocked bans from being implemented.
As of Tuesday, at least 10 states were enforcing bans on most abortions, according to a New York Times tally.
Last week, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order that sought to ease some barriers for those who seek abortions, although he said his powers remain limited on the issue.