Elizabeth Savino worked as a nurse practitioner at Grace Clinic for two years, serving mostly low-income women at the family planning clinic.
Savino now works in family practice but she keeps an eye on new laws she says could limit abortion access and affect women’s health-care providers. She’s worried.
“I think that more and more, everybody’s hands are being tied by various legislators who, in my opinion, have no business making decisions in women’s health or how a health practitioner practices,” Savino said.
The status of abortion access and legislation that affects patients and healthcare providers may change dramatically in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide a Texas case that could echo across the country. The court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which challenges two restrictions that abortion rights advocates say place an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.
The Texas restrictions would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of outpatient surgical centers and require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Anti-abortion advocates say the measures protect women’s health, while abortion rights advocates say the Texas law fits a pattern of legislation to limit abortions. Arizona and more than 20 other states have passed a number of abortion laws that could be affected by a Supreme Court decision.
History of abortion laws in Arizona
The contested law in Texas is among several proposals bundled in a bill passed by the state’s Legislature in July 2013. While the two provisions have been stayed pending the court’s decision, the rest have become law. They join a large patchwork of abortion laws passed across the country over the past few years.
Arizona was an early adopter of abortion laws. The first bill in Arizona was proposed and passed in 1999, but a court case kept it from going into effect until a 2010 settlement.
“We practically invented those (laws) here in Arizona,” said Jodi Liggett, the vice president for public affairs at Planned Parenthood Arizona.
The shift in tolerance for abortion laws was sparked by political changes. Democrat Janet Napolitano’s departure from the governor’s office and Republican Jan Brewer’s induction as her replacement in January 2009 set the stage for the 2010 elections. An already anti-abortion Legislature no longer faced a veto from the governor’s desk, and the conservative faction grew even larger following a generally Republican-triumphant midterm election.
“I really hate the analogy of the ‘perfect storm,’ but it was,” said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization that supports abortion rights.
The conservative lobbying group Center for Arizona Policy has supported 42 abortion laws since 1999, the majority of which were proposed in 2009 or later, according to their website. Five bills were proposed this legislative session alone, and three were signed into law on March 31.
“Since 2009, 2010, we have had pro-life governors and pro-life legislators who are willing to pass common-sense regulations on abortion,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the policy center.“Before that, it was much more difficult to pass anything because of the extreme pro-abortion position taken by our prior governor.”
The year 2010 held similar changes for other states across the country. Of the 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives up for election, Republicans won a majority with 242 seats. Meanwhile, 37 states held gubernatorial elections, and Republican candidates, including Brewer, won 29 of them.
“The country has become pro-life,” Herrod said. “The political climate in Arizona reflects that.”
At the same time as the political turnover, conservative policy organizations were reinvesting efforts at the state level after seeing negligible returns working at the federal level. Elected officials and policy leaders formed a fruitful partnership that was often modeled in other states.
“You had some investment at the state level by the conservative organizations, and then you had legislatures with a similar mindset come to power, and when the two met, you started to see abortion restrictions fly through legislatures,” Nash said.