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Anti-abortion group wants to help defend state in Planned Parenthood suit

(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)

(Deposit Photos/Merion_Merion)

An organization that counsels women not to terminate their pregnancies wants the right to help Attorney General Mark Brnovich fend off legal challenges by Planned Parenthood to Arizona’s abortion laws.

Attorneys for the Choices Pregnancy Center contend the organization has “unique interests to defend and information to supply” in the legal fight between Planned Parenthood and the state.

Specifically, attorney Kevin Theriot told U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps that the organization is concerned that Planned Parenthood seeks to void a state law that requires a woman to wait 24 hours between her first visit to a doctor and actually getting an abortion.

“If plaintiffs prevail, many women will no longer learn – with at least 24 hours to act on that knowledge – the private agencies and services like Choices are available to assist,” he wrote. “Nor will they learn of Arizona’s list of agencies that offer alternatives to abortions, on which list Choices is specifically included.”

But Catalina Vergara, representing Planned Parenthood, is asking the judge to reject allowing Choices to intervene in the case. She said it has no legitimate interest in the laws regulating abortions as it is not a medical provider affected by those statutes.

“CPC moves to intervene in this case not to protect any concrete interests of its own, but to advocate for restricting the options of Arizonans seeking access to safe, legal abortion,” she wrote. “It has no more of a stake in this litigation than any other Arizonan who opposes women’s reproductive rights.”

Choice’s own legal filings acknowledge its aim is to deter women from terminating their pregnancy by preserving the existing laws.

“If plaintiffs succeed, more women will abort without all the information necessary to make a fully informed decision,” Theriot said. “This will cause more women to later come to regret their choice to abort and struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when they learn, only after the event, what they once did not know about the implications of their decision and the options that had been available to them.”

And there’s something else.

Theriot also told Zipps that Choices has a financial interest in the outcome of the case. He said if it has to devote more dollars to helping women with post-abortion regret it will have less money to reach out to pregnant women considering abortion in hopes of convincing them otherwise.

At stake is how many entities Planned Parenthood will have to battle in its lawsuit claiming that some provisions of existing abortion laws are unconstitutional.

One is the rule that requires patients to visit clinics in person, twice at least 24 hours apart, to receive certain state-mandated counseling before proceeding with abortion.

Planned Parenthood also is challenging statutes and rules that now prohibit anyone other than a licensed physician from providing abortions. That bars the use of nurse practitioners who are more available in rural areas than abortion-trained doctors.

And it also contests prohibitions on the use of telemedicine. Arizona law allows medical advice to be given and prescriptions to be written, after a video conference with patients, with the lone exception being when an abortion is involved.

This isn’t the first legal go-around on several of these issues.

In 2011, the state Court of Appeals upheld the restrictions, rejecting arguments that they impose undue restrictions on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Appellate Judge Peter Swann also said it’s legally irrelevant that nurse practitioners, who are more available in rural areas than abortion-trained doctors, have a comparable safety record.

But in filing suit earlier this year, attorneys for Planned Parenthood cited a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abortion restrictions need to be judged on whether they create an “undue burden” on women.

Attorney Alice Clapman said what that means, is courts look at statutes “to determine if the benefits of the restriction outweigh the burdens.” And in this case, she said, the challenged statutes are “sham public safety laws where there’s no evidence of a benefit.”

In the new lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is asking Zipps to look not just as the individual hurdles being placed in the path of women but what they say is the cumulative effect.

The law, the legal papers say, has resulted in closure of Planned Parenthood clinics in Yuma, Goodyear, Prescott Valley and Chandler. And the Flagstaff clinic can provide abortion services only one day a week.

And then there are the numbers: Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the cumulative effect of those laws have reduced the number of abortions performed from about 10,000 a dozen years ago to fewer than 6,500 now.

Ryan Anderson, a top aide to Brnovich, put a different spin on the numbers.

“They are literally suing because their bottom line has been impacted,” he said.

Brnovich, who is not objecting to having Crisis become a party to the lawsuit, has made no secret that he is opposed to abortion.

In his first campaign in 2014, he boasted that he was endorsed to Arizona Right to Life PAC and “named as the only pro-life candidate in the attorney general race.”

“We also have an obligation to protect and defend laws that concern the unborn,” he said in campaign materials at the time.

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