A series of new restrictions on abortions in the last four years has propelled Arizona into the Top Five of all states in a list of places considered most friendly to "pro-life'' issues.
The listing Thursday by Americans United for Life singles out Arizona as the "most improved'' according to its rankings. Charmaine Yoest, the group's president and CEO, said that is largely based on the state adopting a law prohibiting abortions at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Not mentioned is the fact the law is not in effect. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined the state from enforcing the law while the judges review its legality.
But Denise Burke, the organization's vice president of legal affairs, said she believes that is only a temporary setback. She said the wording of the Arizona law makes it a good candidate for eventually being upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The injunction against the law also did not keep Gov. Jan Brewer from cheering the new reports.
"As a proud and passionate champion of pro-life legislation, I am truly elated and honored by this announcement,'' she said in a prepared statement. And Brewer, who has signed a series of abortion restrictions since taking office four years ago, said this is not the end of such moves.
"I vow to continue to support policies that safeguard Arizona women, families and, of course, our most vulnerable population -- the unborn,'' she said. Brewer is on record as supporting an outright ban on all abortions at any stage of pregnancy, except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest.
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, who has helped craft much of the anti-abortion legislation in the state, also heralded the acknowledgement.
"Arizona's become one of the safest states in the country for preborn children and women facing crisis pregnancies,'' she said. Herrod said Arizona lawmakers have been at the forefront of enacting "reasonable regulations'' on abortion.
But Planned Parenthood Arizona had a different take on the recognition.
"I don't think it's an honor to be designated as the state that is the most so-called pro-life state,'' said Michelle Steinberg, the organization's director of public policy. "Basically what this does is highlight the fact that Arizona continues to be the state that attacks access on women's health care.''
Burke said the importance of the state's 20-week abortion ban in rating Arizona a friendly state cannot be understated.
She acknowledged several other states also have similar cutoffs. But in each of those cases the measures are based on the contention that is the point when a fetus can feel pain.
The Arizona law also mentions fetal pain, a contention that has been disputed. But it also spells out that the restriction is necessary to protect the health of the woman based on arguments that the abortion is more risky the later in pregnancy it takes place.
"We believe the U.S. Supreme Court will find it is more legally defensible'' than the other measures, Burke said, as the justices have upheld other abortion restrictions designed to protect maternal health. That could make the Arizona statute the template for similar laws elsewhere.
Brewer pointed out that 20-week abortion ban was just one of the measures she signed last year. The governor also gave her approval to legislation that said any organization which provides abortions cannot participate in the Medicaid family planning program.
But that legislation, too, also has been barred from taking effect after a federal judge in Phoenix concluded the state has no right to make such a restriction.
Abortion foes were, however, able to get some new language into the statutes to require that pregnant women have access to more information.
That includes a state-run web site with depictions of a fetus at certain stages of development and detailing the risks of the procedure. And the law gives women the opportunity to view an ultrasound and listen to the child's heartbeat.
Steinberg said those moves are out of step with public sentiment. She cited not only the reelection of President Obama but also the defeat of Todd Akin whose bid to move from the U.S. House to Senate faltered after commenting that women cannot get pregnant in cases of "legitimate rape.''
And she said polls show most Arizonans support the ability of women to terminate a pregnancy. But Steinberg acknowledged the majority of the Arizona Legislature remains composed of people who have been supportive of new restrictions on abortion.