PHOENIX - Newly enacted restrictions on abortion services in Arizona, especially those in several small cities, are being put on hold before they take effect while a judge considers a legal challenge.
Judge Richard Gama of Maricopa County Superior Court told lawyers during a hearing Wednesday that he'll block enforcement of the new laws pending an Aug. 22 hearing on a challenge filed last week by Planned Parenthood Arizona.
The new laws being challenged were to have taken effect July 20 along with most other laws approved by the Arizona Legislature during its 2011 regular session.
The laws include ones to require clinics that perform medication abortions to satisfy state requirements on personnel, equipment, facilities and procedures that previously were imposed only on clinics that perform surgical abortions.
Others include prohibiting nurse practitioners from performing medication abortions, which account for about half of the abortions performed in Arizona, according to state data.
Planned Parenthood, the state's largest abortion provider, says the new laws would shut down abortion services in Flagstaff and Yuma and severely restrict them in Prescott, forcing women to travel to Phoenix or Tucson to get abortions.
Planned Parenthood's challenge, an expansion of a previously filed lawsuit challenging other abortion restrictions, contends that enforcement of the new laws should be blocked because they trample on state constitutional protections for privacy and equal protection under the law.
Lawyers for the state and a legislative leader helping defend the laws have yet to file a formal response to the new challenge, but they and Gama said that legal issues involved in the new case nearly mirror those in another case now pending in a state appeals court.
That case concerns earlier laws restricting other abortion restrictions which a different trial judge has blocked.
A lawyer for Planned Parenthood indicated a willingness to put the new laws on until the Court of Appeals rules in the other case, which Gama said could avoid having potentially conflicting rulings "that might muddy the waters."
However, a lawyer for House Speaker Andy Tobin objected to blocking the new laws until the Court of Appeals rules.
It isn't known when the appellate court will issue its decision and the new laws are entitled to a presumption of constitutionality, attorney Peter Gentala said.