by Michael Winter/USAToday

A federal judge today declared Arizona’s ban on abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional, clearing the way for it to take effect Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg said the statute does not prohibit women from deciding to end their pregnancies, noting that they would need to decide earlier. He also said the state had provided “substantial and well-documented” evidence that a fetus has the capacity to feel pain during an abortion by at least 20 weeks. Abortions are allowed in medical emergencies.

Currently, the state bans abortions after the “viability” of a fetus to survive outside the womb, which is generally about 24 weeks.

Our Gannett colleagues at The Arizona Republic point out that the new law will actually ban abortions at 18 weeks because it is based on the “gestational age” of the fetus, which is defined as beginning the first day of a woman’s last menstruation. Generally, doctors perform ultrasounds around 18 weeks to detect for any abnormalities.

The paper writes that “more babies with fatal fetal defects are expected to be carried to term, even though they will die within minutes, hours or days. But more will also be done to help their families get through the trauma of losing a child.”

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Categories: The Bench Review

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