PHOENIX – When an Arizona judge ruled last week that prosecutors can resume enforcing a near-total ban on abortion that dates to the Civil War, it fell to the staff at Camelback Family Planning to break the news to the women scheduled for appointments in the coming weeks.
The staff faced “crying, a lot of very, very angry people, denial,” nurse Ashleigh Feiring said Monday. One woman argued, “But I’m only five weeks (along).”
Women seeking abortions across Arizona were forced to find alternatives beyond the state’s borders after the ruling, which clears the way for prosecutors to charge doctors and others who help a woman end a pregnancy unless her life is in danger. The state’s major abortion providers immediately halted procedures and canceled appointments.
Providers in neighboring states, already seeing an increase in traffic from other conservative states that have banned abortion, were preparing to treat some of the 13,000 Arizona patients who get an abortion each year.
Planned Parenthood Arizona on Monday asked Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson to put her ruling on hold pending an appeal, saying it created confusion about the status of the law in Arizona. Lawyers cited conflicts created by the abortion ban dating to 1864, a more recent law banning abortions after 15 weeks, and a variety of other laws regulating the processes and paperwork when terminating pregnancies.
Johnson’s ruling lifted an injunction that was imposed after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed a right to abortion in 1973.
At the Camelback Family Planning clinic in central Phoenix, a young woman took off from work Monday afternoon for an appointment to get medicine to help with an abortion. The 20-year-old is afraid she is prone to miscarriage and already miscarried two years ago.
“I don’t want to experience this. I don’t have the time and energy to go through that again,” said the woman, who declined to give her name.
But she never made it past the check-in window. Instead, she got a slip of paper with a website to order medicine by mail and left visibly upset.
She says she never got a call that the ruling by a Tucson judge last Friday effectively voided her ability to get an abortion in Arizona.
“I can guarantee I would not have wasted my time leaving work early and losing money to come here,” the woman said. “I need to get it done —regardless if that’s going to a different state or going across the border. It just sucks that this is the last resort for people.”
The doctors and nurses at Camelback Family Planning had an inkling last week that a court decision on abortion could come down. But they thought it would be a ban on abortions after 15 weeks into pregnancy. So, several of the abortions performed last week were for patients over 20 weeks along.
“We cleared our schedule to do as many of those later-term ones,” said Feiring, the nurse. So they postponed some patients less farther along until this week.
Feiring and other staff at the Phoenix clinic are letting patients know the clinic is still available to do follow-up abortion care. They refer them to websites and organizations that help with abortion access.
Planned Parenthood has patient navigators who work with women seeking abortions 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 are getting abortions in California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado.
“This is really a traumatic experience, to be told that one day a basic health care procedure is available to you and then out of the blue the next day it’s been stripped away from you and has the potential to completely alter the course of your life,” Fonteno said.
In California, the second-largest Planned Parenthood affiliate in the country says it is considering opening a new health center in part because of an expected increase in patients from Arizona and other states.
Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties operates nine health centers in Southern California that catered to 250,000 medical visits last year – largely for services other than abortion, like cancer screenings and birth control, according to Nichole Ramirez, the group’s senior vice president for communications.
The group started preparing for an influx of patients from other states last year by hiring more providers, 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, as state by state has been banning abortion,” Ramirez said. “The number is going to continue to increase.”
California is already seeing evidence of an increase in abortion patients coming from other states. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a new website – abortion.ca.gov – that promotes all of the state’s abortion services, including a list of clinics and information about state laws.
On Monday, the Governor’s Office said the website – while not tracking and storing people’s personal information -- had seen an increase in out-of-state page views, with about 58% of traffic coming from people in other states. That increase comes after Newsom used some of his campaign money to pay for billboards in seven conservative states to promote the website.
Meanwhile, a California Access Reproductive Justice – a nonprofit that helps people pay for the logistics of getting an abortion – said 10 of the 63 people it helped in August were from Arizona.
Shannon Brewer, director of Las Cruces Women’s Health Organization that operates an abortion clinic in southern New Mexico, says she anticipates a surge in inquiries about abortion services from residents of Arizona, a two-hour drive away at minimum. The clinic already received nearly a dozen queries Monday from people in Arizona.
Brewer previously operated the abortion clinic in Jackson, Mississippi, that was at the center of the Dodds v Jackson Women’s Health decision that took away women’s constitutional protection for access to abortions nationwide. The Mississippi clinic has closed, while the like-named clinic in New Mexico has treated about 100 abortion patients during its first six weeks in operation.
“The majority of our calls are from out-of-state, mostly Texas. The majority of our patients are from Texas,” Brewer said Monday. “I expect the same thing” from Arizona.
Most abortion procedures remain legal in New Mexico, where state lawmakers in 2021 repealed a dormant 1969 statute that outlawed most abortion procedures as felonies to ensure access to abortion.
Associated Press writer Morgan Lee in Santa Fe, New Mexico, contributed.