Earlier this year the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion with its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Now state legislatures are free to ban abortion, even though one in four women will receive one in her lifetime.
In Arizona, our appeals court recently ruled that abortions may take place again, at least for now, after blocking enforcement of an 1864 near-total ban that would criminalize doctors for providing care. Further complicating the legal landscape, a new law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy was enacted this year. Now the court will decide which laws apply.
Let’s be clear – neither law is a good solution. Neither law is based in medicine. Neither law protects pregnant people, nor deals with the reality of their lives. Contraception can fail, partners may insist on using no contraception, or it may be unaffordable. Whatever the cause, we already know the consequences of severe restrictions: the cruelty of abortion bans falls hardest on those who can least afford it.
Banning abortion does not take away people’s need to access abortion care. These laws disproportionally harm Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other people of color because of this country’s legacy of racism and discrimination. Also, for many people in Arizona, abortion has for decades been only a right in theory. Our state’s geography and restrictive laws meant vast areas of Arizona have offered no care at all.
Though abortion may remain fully legal in adjacent states, no one should have to leave their home state to access health care. According to the Turnaway Study, conducted by the University of California, “denying a woman an abortion creates economic hardship and insecurity which lasts for years,” including inability to cover expenses like food, housing, and transportation.
Worst of all, this law intrudes upon and criminalizes the doctor-patient relationship. Quality health care and solid decisions can only be achieved in the context of a high-trust relationship. Restrictive abortion laws like the ones in Arizona destroy that trust. A doctor is fearful of regulators with an agenda, and a patient may be anxious about giving complete information lest they open a potential legal issue. With criminal penalties on the line, it is understandable that doctors may deny care, if they have even a shred of doubt about the circumstances of the pregnancy.
This is just wrong, it’s unconscionable.
Lawmakers have lost touch with everyday Arizonans who overwhelmingly want abortion to remain legal. Ninety percent of Arizonans agree that “each of us should have the freedom to decide how and when we start or grow a family, free from political interference.” (Source: NARAL & Change Research poll)
Why are policymakers enacting laws that almost seem as if they were designed to be cruel? How else can one explain the mandatory prison time for doctors and the lack of exceptions in the current law? Senate Bill 1164 includes NO exceptions for rape, incest, or health – only the life of the pregnant person. Any doctor or hospital can tell you that drawing that line is nearly impossible and will inevitably lead to unnecessary patient deaths.
When politicians treat access to health care like a blood sport, it is everyday people who pay the price. Nonprofits like ours are handed the human wreckage caused by this politically motivated indifference. How we wish elected officials would recognize that this is real life, affecting real individuals and families.
It will take all of us to restore sanity to reproductive health policy in Arizona. Thankfully, we know that most Arizonans possess common sense and compassion. We know that the real work that needs to be done here is to invest in the policies and programs that enable successful living: housing, child care, adequate pay, sick leave, prenatal care, post-partum care and so on. A government set on truly embracing “life” is one that will support hard-working families, and the decisions they make about their own care.
Brittany Fonteno is CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona and Magdalena Verdugo is CEO of the YWCA Southern Arizona.