Arizona abortion clinics send women to other states

PHOENIX (AP) — When an Arizona judge ruled last week that prosecutors can resume enforcing a near-complete Civil War abortion ban, it fell to Camelback Family Planning staff, the women scheduled for appointments, to break the news to be delivered in the coming weeks.

Staff were faced with “crying, lots of very, very angry people, denial,” nurse Ashleigh Feiring said Monday. One woman argued, “But I’m only five weeks old.”

Women seeking abortions across Arizona were forced to look for alternatives across state lines after the ruling, paving the way for prosecutors to charge doctors and others who help a woman terminate a pregnancy, unless her life is in danger. The state’s main abortion providers immediately halted procedures and canceled appointments.

Providers in neighboring states, already seeing a surge in traffic from other conservative states that have banned abortion, were preparing to treat some of the 13,000 patients in Arizona who receive an abortion each year.

Planned Parenthood Arizona on Monday asked Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson to put her decision on hold pending appeal, saying it has created confusion about the status of the law in Arizona. Lawyers cited conflicts created by the 1864 abortion ban, a more recent law banning abortions after 15 weeks, and a host of other laws regulating abortion procedures and paperwork.

Johnson’s judgment overturned an injunction imposed after the US Supreme Court ruled in its 1973 Roe v. Wade guaranteed abortion rights.

At the Camelback Family Planning Clinic in central Phoenix, a young woman took time off work Monday afternoon to make an appointment to get medication for an abortion. The 20-year-old worries that she is prone to miscarriage and already had a miscarriage two years ago.

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“I don’t want to experience that. I don’t have the time or energy to go through this again,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.

But she never got past the check-in window. Instead, she was given a slip of paper with a website where she could order medication by mail and left, clearly upset.

She says she never received a call that a Tucson judge’s ruling last Friday effectively voided her ability to get an abortion in Arizona.

“I can guarantee I wouldn’t have wasted my time leaving work early and losing money coming here,” the woman said. “I have to do it – whether it’s going to another state or across the border. It just sucks that this is the last resort for people.”

The doctors and nurses at Camelback Family Planning had a hunch last week that a court decision on abortion could come. But they thought it would ban abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. So some of the abortions performed in the last week were for patients older than 20 weeks.

“We’ve designed our schedule to accommodate as many of these later appointments,” said Feiring, the nurse. So they pushed some patients less far to this week.

Feiring and other staff at the Phoenix Clinic tell patients that the clinic remains available for post-abortion care. They refer them to websites and organizations that help access abortion.

Planned Parenthood has patient navigators working with women seeking abortion to find an affiliate in a state where abortion is legal and to help with money and logistics, said Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona. Many Arizona patients have abortions in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.

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“It’s really a traumatic experience when you’re told that one day basic health care is available to you and the next day it’s taken away from you out of the blue and has the potential to completely change the course of your life,” Fonteno said .

In California, Planned Parenthood’s second-largest subsidiary in the country says it is considering opening a new health center, in part due to an expected surge in patients from Arizona and other states.

Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino County operates nine health centers in Southern California that provided 250,000 medical visits last year — mostly for services other than abortion, like cancer screening and birth control, according to Nichole Ramirez, the group’s senior vice president of communications.

The group began preparing for an influx of out-of-state patients last year by hiring more vendors, offering more abortion appointment slots and helping patients pay for things like gas, hotel rooms and plane tickets.

“We knew this was going to happen slowly in a way, since abortion was being banned from state to state,” Ramirez said. “The number will continue to rise.”

California is already seeing evidence of an increase in abortion patients from other states. Last week Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new website – abortion.ca.gov – that promotes all state abortion services, including a list of clinics and information about state laws.

On Monday, the governor’s office said that while the site doesn’t track and store people’s personally identifiable information, it has seen an increase in out-of-state page views, with about 58% of traffic coming from out-of-state people. The increase comes after Newsom used part of its campaign money to pay billboards in seven conservative states to promote the site.

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Meanwhile, a California Access Reproductive Justice — a nonprofit that helps people pay for the logistics of having an abortion — said 10 of the 63 people it helped in August were from Arizona.

Shannon Brewer, director of the Las Cruces Women’s Health Organization, which operates an abortion clinic in southern New Mexico, says she expects requests for abortion services to increase from residents of Arizona, which is at least a two-hour drive away. The clinic received nearly a dozen requests from people in Arizona as of Monday.

Brewer previously operated the abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, which was at the heart of the Dodds v. Jackson Women’s Health decision that stripped women of constitutional protections for statewide access to abortions. The Mississippi Clinic was closed while the New Mexico clinic of the same name treated about 100 abortion patients in its first six weeks of operation.

“Most of our calls come from abroad, mainly from Texas. The majority of our patients are from Texas,” Brewer said Monday. “I expect the same” from Arizona.

Most abortion procedures remain legal in New Mexico, where in 2021 the state legislature repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as a crime to ensure access to abortion.

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Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico contributed.