- Associated Press - Monday, November 5, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A federal appeals court in San Francisco has begun grappling with the constitutionality of Arizona’s abortion law, which is considered the most restrictive in the country as it prohibits abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Three Arizona obstetrician-gynecologists are challenging the law in federal court.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals began considering the issue Monday after a lower-court judge upheld the law.

Supporters justify the ban by arguing that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks of pregnancy and that women face more health risks from later abortions. Critics dispute both contentions.

Nine other states also have 20-week bans, but the Arizona ban is earliest because it uses a different starting point to calculate a fetus’s age.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

PHOENIX (AP) _ A federal judge has upheld Arizona’s earliest-in the-nation ban of most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, but it now faces appellate court scrutiny.

A panel of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges in San Francisco will hear arguments Monday on the ban, which the court previously put on hold pending a future ruling.

U.S. District Judge James Teilborg on July 30 refused to block the ban, ruling that it doesn’t impose a substantial obstacle to being able to have abortions because women still have time to make decisions.

Teilborg said the ban is only a regulation, not a flat prohibition, but opponents contend it’s unconstitutional because some women couldn’t have abortions before viability. That’s when a fetus can survive outside the womb, generally at about 23-24 weeks of pregnancy.

Supporters justify the ban by arguing that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks of pregnancy and that women face more health risks from later abortions. Critics dispute both contentions.

Other points of contention about the ban include whether it’d impose hardships on women with non-emergency health problems and fetal abnormalities that aren’t discovered until after the ban takes hold.

The lawsuit challenging the ban was filed by supporters of legal abortion. The ban was part of a broader package of abortion legislation enacted last spring by Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature.

Nine other states also have 20-week bans, but the Arizona ban is earliest because it uses a different starting point to calculate a fetus’ age.

Besides Arizona, other states with versions of 20-week bans are Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Carolina and Oklahoma. Most were enacted in the past several years.

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