Who is the Gilbert physician working to enforce a near-total abortion ban in Arizona?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

A Gilbert obstetrician/gynecologist is the "intervenor" who opened the door for the Arizona Supreme Court to revive enforcement of a near-total abortion ban.

Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, who is listed on court documents as the intervenor and "guardian ad litem for all Arizona unborn infants," is the person behind the state high court's decision to review the case because he's the person who filed the appeal to an Arizona appellate panel's Dec. 30 decision that doctors in Arizona could not be prosecuted for performing abortions at 15 weeks or less gestation.

The Arizona Supreme Court said in an Aug. 22 order that it would review a lower court's opinion and reassess the legality of abortion in the state. Oral arguments are scheduled for Dec. 12. Officials with the Arizona Supreme Court say they don't speculate about when the judges will issue a decision.

Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, a Gilbert obstetrician/gynecologist, is the court-appointed guardian ad litem for unborn children in Arizona and the intervenor in an abortion case headed for the Arizona Supreme Court
Dr. Eric Hazelrigg, a Gilbert obstetrician/gynecologist, is the court-appointed guardian ad litem for unborn children in Arizona and the intervenor in an abortion case headed for the Arizona Supreme Court

If the state's highest court rules in Hazelrigg's favor, all abortions would be illegal in Arizona except in cases to save the life of the mother, and anyone who performs an abortion would face prison time.

Hazelrigg does not agree with the Arizona appellate court panel's Dec. 30 decision that ruled abortions performed in the state by licensed physicians are legal up to 15 weeks of gestation despite a near-total abortion ban that remains on the books in Arizona.

Unlike the appellate panel, Hazelrigg does not think the two laws coexist. Rather, Hazelrigg sees the near-total ban, which dates back to 1864, as the current, enforceable state law. The state adopted the 1864 law with streamlined language in 1901; it remains on the books today as ARS 13-3603.

"I think that old law has been upheld, even in that 15-week ban," he recently told The Arizona Republic.

The 1864 law was in effect until the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which protected a pregnant person's right to choose to have an abortion.

But the status of the 1864 law was thrown into question last year when the nation's highest court issued its landmark Dobbs vs. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision.

The Dobbs decision meant that states could set their own abortion laws without any federal standard protecting abortion access. In Arizona, the result was confusion, a court battle and intermittent stops in abortion care.

Here are five things we know about Hazelrigg, who is being represented in court by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

He's medical director of an anti-abortion pregnancy center

Hazelrigg for 15 years has been the medical director of Choices Pregnancy Centers, which according to court documents is "an organization dedicated to protecting pregnant women and their babies."

As medical director at Choices, court documents indicate that in his job, Hazelrigg fulfills the Choices mission of "assisting pregnant women and their children with prenatal and post-birth services − from prenatal vitamins and parenting classes to mentoring and providing free diapers."

The Choices website says: "No pressure. No judgment. A safe place to consider your options."

However, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that crisis pregnancy centers are misleading because they seek to "dissuade, deter, or prevent" people from seeking certain reproductive health care options, including abortion.

"Staff members at these unregulated and often nonmedical facilities have no legal obligation to provide pregnant people with accurate information," an issue brief from the organization says.

He attended medical school in California

Though Hazelrigg grew up in Southern California, Arizona is home, he said. Hazelrigg and his wife, Sandra, have five children, including three they adopted from Brazil. In addition to his position at Choices, Hazelrigg is a practicing obstetrician/gynecologist at Comprehensive Women's Health in Gilbert.

Hazelrigg, who has no disciplinary actions listed by the Arizona Medical Board for the last five years, graduated from medical school at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in 1990, according to his licensing records.

He told The Republic he did a residency in obstetrics and gynecology in a joint program at Maricopa Medical Center and what's now called Dignity St. Joseph's Medical Center between 1990 and 1994. Maricopa Medical Center is now known as Valleywise Health Medical Center.

Records with the American Board of Medical Specialties show he's certified in his specialty by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. His last certification was in 2022 and he's actively maintaining his certification.

A Pima County judge appointed him guardian of unborn Arizona children

Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson appointed Hazelrigg as the guardian at litem for unborn infants in September 2022. At the same time as Hazelrigg's appointment, Johnson decided to side with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich and reinstate the1864 near-total abortion ban, which makes no exceptions for rape or incest, though it does make an exception to save the life of the mother. A previously appointed guardian ad litem from the original Roe-era Pima County case died, according to court documents.

Hazelrigg argued in a court motion that a guardian for unborn children was needed because the state mustrepresent the competing interests of other citizens and because the Pima County Attorney joined Planned Parenthood’s brief "and made no attempt to represent the interests of the unborn in this case."

The Arizona Court of Appeals then paused Johnson's decision on the 19th-century abortion ban pending the outcome of an appeal from Planned Parenthood Arizona. As a result, the near-total ban was only briefly in effect.

On Dec. 30, the appellate court ruled that physicians wouldn't be prosecuted for performing abortions at 15 weeks or less gestation, which led Hazelrigg to file his appeal with the state supreme court.

He believes Arizona law prohibits physicians from performing abortions

"Arizona law is clear: no one may perform an abortion except to save the mother's life," Hazelrigg's appeal says. "Arizonans deserve to have their laws fully enforced. They made their voice heard at the ballot box − electing Legislature after Legislature to protect life as much as possible. And lawmakers delivered."

The appellate court's decision to allow abortions up to 15 weeks in Arizona had the effect of "doing with a pen what abortion proponents could not do with a vote" Hazelrigg's appeal says. "That's not how a republic works."

Among entities and individuals that have filed "amicus" briefs in support of Hazelrigg are the state of Arkansas, the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, former Arizona legislator Jill Norgaard, Arizona House Speaker Ben Toma, R-Glendale, and Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, Arizona Supreme Court records show.

Hazelrigg says he has always been against abortion

"I've been a Christian all my life, since I was eight years old and have always held the belief that we should protect the unborn child," Hazelrigg said. "I don't think there was a time in my life when I wasn't pro-life."

Hazelrigg said he thinks it's the will of Arizonans to protect unborn children and he believes the near-total ban will be successfully upheld.

"I've always been passionate about the unborn child and about supporting women," Hazelrigg said. "I've dedicated my life to it."

Hazelrigg recently returned home from a trip to Africa where he was doing cervical cancer screenings. He also does mission work in South America.

"My life's goal has been to support women and unborn children in any way that I possibly can," he said. "I think that having the privilege of being the guardian ad litem of all the unborn children in Arizona is an incredible privilege and I'm very happy to do it."

Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or at 602-444-8369. Follow her on X formerly known as Twitter @stephanieinnes.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Dr. Eric Hazelrigg wants to criminalize Arizona abortion providers