Biased Arizona Supreme Court justice recuses self, but draconian abortion law still looms

Give him credit.

Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery did the right thing.

He won’t be among the judges to decide if Arizona should revert to the dark ages by reinstating an 1864 abortion ban.

For much of his political career — before becoming a judge — Montgomery was an outspoken anti-abortion activist, making public appearances and once saying that Planned Parenthood “is responsible for the greatest genocide known to man.”

Given that, there was no way — none — that he should be among the judges hearing arguments over whether to reinstate a territorial abortion ban in Arizona.

For Montgomery, ethics overcame ego

When publicly called out on his past and how it conflicted with the ethics rules for judges in Arizona, Montgomery at first balked, saying he was not going to recuse himself.

But this week he changed his mind.

Ethics won out over ego, which can help to reassure (at least to a tiny degree) the public’s belief in the judicial system.

But it’s nothing the opponents of the draconian 19th century law should be cheering about.

Montgomery has opinions on abortion: Which judge doesn’t?

The state’s highest court was packed by former Gov. Doug Ducey with conservative justices.

And the Republican-controlled Legislature, while passing a 15-week abortion law, never voted to rescind the pre-statehood ban that comes with a two- to five-year prison term for anyone providing an abortion.

Initiative is best hope to protect your rights

Abortion-rights activists protest outside the Arizona State Senate following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, in Phoenix on June 24, 2022.
Abortion-rights activists protest outside the Arizona State Senate following the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, in Phoenix on June 24, 2022.

Given that, the radical, grossly misnamed Alliance Defending Freedom jumped in with its plan for the Arizona Supreme Court to take away the reproductive freedom of all Arizona women.

Logic and legal precedent don’t matter much with an issue like abortion. Judges in such a case don’t tend to base decisions on the law. Instead, they interpret the law to fit a decision they’ve already made.

The best hope to protect reproductive rights is with the Arizona for Abortion Access initiative.

The coalition of advocates and activists behind it need to collect 383,923 valid signatures by July to get the initiative on the ballot. Essentially, it would restore the rights women had under Roe v. Wade by creating a constitutional amendment to protect access to abortion services.

Several other states have gone that route recently.

No one is truly impartial on abortion

The group pushing the initiative should feel pretty good about its chances if it gets on the ballot. In 2022, a poll conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that 62% of Arizonans support legalized abortion.

But given the kind of opposition money that anti-abortion organizations like the Center for Arizona Policy could bring in, it will be an ugly fight.

Still, abortion rights is a decision that should be made by citizens in a statewide vote.

Legislatures can’t be trusted to be fair or to reflect what constituents want. And, in spite of a conciliatory gesture like Montgomery’s, neither can judges.

No one is neutral when it comes to abortion. No one.

The Arizona Code of Judicial Conduct, like similar codes in every state, says, “A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned … .”

When it comes to abortion, that’s not just Montgomery.

That’s every judge.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Abortion law looms, but at least a biased judge recuses himself