In Arizona, legal confusion halts abortion services at Planned Parenthoods

Originally published by The 19th

After the supreme court released its decision on Friday overturning Roe v Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed the federal right to an abortion, Planned Parenthood of Arizona announced it would be halting all procedures at their seven clinics.

This announcement from the largest abortion provider in the state came amid confusion over a law banning abortion dating back to 1901, when Arizona was still a territory. Arizona state senate Republicans released a statement hours after Roe fell that the pre-Roe ban was in effect, and that the only exception for an abortion would be if the pregnant person’s life is in danger. Providers could face two to five years in prison under this law.

However, unlike other pre-Roe bans on the books – an already murky legal area in states across the nation – this law was enjoined in 1973. Some legal experts say this injunction prohibiting the law would first need to be lifted in order for the law to take effect. Amanda Mollindo of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona told Cronkite News that this wouldn’t happen automatically. It would require legal action for this pre-Roe law to be enacted.

Further confusing things, the Republican the governor, Doug Ducey, told reporters back in March, when the state legislature passed a new law banning abortion after 15 weeks, that it would take effect over this pre-Roe law. The bill’s language itself, though, says it would not do that.

For the foreseeable future, Planned Parenthood clinics in the state will not be providing surgical or medication abortion. The final outcome will probably be decided by the courts, but until then, Planned Parenthood isn’t taking any chances and other clinics in the state have also announced they will be halting abortion services.

“This is part of the anti-abortion opposition’s strategy,” Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a press call. “They want to create this chaos and confusion because then it makes people scared to be able to exercise their fundamental right to abortion, [and] it creates fear for providers to be able to provide this essential healthcare service.”

For Dr Jill Gibson, the medical director of Planned Parenthood Arizona, Friday was devastating. She had been preparing for the possible end of Roe but thought the decision would come next week.

As a result, she had coordinated with more than 30 staff members to come to work on Friday – one provider even flew in from California – to get as many patients as possible through their procedures before the anticipated ruling.

Instead, at around 7am local time Friday morning, Gibson saw the supreme court decision post. “It was instantly like the floor dropped out beneath me,” she said. “And I’ll be honest I was instantly just in tears.”

Instead of providing abortions, she spent the morning, along with other providers, meeting one-on-one with patients breaking the news that they would not be getting their procedures done that day after all.

“Based on our extremely complex legal landscape, we just didn’t feel like it was going to be an option for us to continue to provide abortion in the state,” Gibson said.

The clinic in Tempe where she was working on Friday cancelled 33 procedures, as well as 38 abortion consent appointments, a counseling session required by Arizona law 24 hours before seeking an abortion.

In 2020 there were 13,273 abortions provided in the state, according to the Arizona department of health services.

Planned Parenthoods in Arizona will remain open for other sexual and reproductive healthcare, including gender-affirming care, pregnancy confirmation checks and STD screenings. Those seeking abortions will have to look out of state.

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