Supreme Court won't hear case that could have reopened Roe v. Wade

The high court declined to hear a case on Arizona's 20-week ban, but the matter is far from settled, experts say

Published January 14, 2014 5:32PM (EST)

                                     (ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)
(ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from Arizona officials hoping to reinstate a ban on abortion at 20 weeks; the law was ruled unconstitutional  “under a long line of invariant Supreme Court precedents" by a lower court in 2013.

The Arizona law criminalized most abortions at 20 weeks after the woman's last menstrual period -- 18 weeks after fertilization, earlier than any other state to advance so-called fetal pain laws -- based on the scientifically refuted claim that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks. Similar laws are currently being litigated in Georgia and Idaho, but remain in effect in nine other states. The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar ban in 2013, but it has not advanced in the Senate.

As Jessica Mason Pieklo at RH Reality Check notes, the group behind the law -- Americans United for Life -- designed the legislation as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Had the high court taken up the case, it would have reopened the question of fetal viability as defined by Roe.

With the court deciding not to hear the case, the current precedent remains in place.

But this is far from the end of the matter, as Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told the New York Times.

“This is not a Supreme Court that is friendly toward abortion rights, and they have made it clear that they will look at and perhaps uphold at least some of these restrictions,” she said. The court's refusal to hear the Arizona case is “by no means the end of the abortion debate in this court.”

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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Abortion Abortion Rights Arizona Reproductive Rights Roe V. Wade Women's Autonomy Women's Rights