Planned Parenthood Arizona grapples with obstacles 1 year after Roe v. Wade reversal

Jun 26, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 8:26 pm

Planned Parenthood logo...

The Planned Parenthood Central Phoenix Health Center sign is viewed in Phoenix, Arizona on February 2, 2017. / AFP / Laura Segall (Photo credit should read LAURA SEGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo credit should read LAURA SEGALL/AFP via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — One year after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Arizona’s largest health care provider and its patients continue to face challenges, according to Planned Parenthood Arizona.

When the Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision, it returned the power to each state on how to regulate abortion, which triggered a flurry of events in Arizona. The state reverted to a more than 100-year-old law, which outlawed abortion except to save the mother’s life. 

Currently, Arizona allows women to receive an abortion up until 15 weeks, but it took months of legal battles and conflicting legal interpretations to get to this point.

The 15-week ban, which was passed by the state legislature in the 2022 session and signed into law by former Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, was set to go into effect at the end of September of that year. Arizona’s former Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich released an opinion stating the pre-statehood ban took precedence over the 15-week ban, but ultimately after multiple legal challenges an Arizona Court of Appeals ruled the 15-week ban was the law in Arizona.  

During a press conference Thursday — two days ahead of the anniversary of the high court’s opinion — CEO and President of PPAZ Brittany Fonteno said over the past year the health care provider has dealt with staffing issues, which she attributed to confusion and uncertainty regarding the laws.

“You have nurses and doctors who have left the state to go to friendlier environments, like California … New York where they’re able to practice in peace and without fear of prosecution,” Fonteno said.

Those challenges remain as PPAZ’S Flagstaff location is no longer offering abortion services due to staffing. Despite the lack of providers, the demand for abortion services has grown.

“Most mornings we have patients lining up outside of our health centers for walk-in abortion appointments as early as 2 a.m. and staying in line in 100 plus degree heat to receive the care that they need,” PPAZ’s Medical Director Dr. Jill Gibson said.

The increased demand for abortions isn’t just coming from within Arizona but from patients living in states where the medical procedure is outlawed.

“Part of the influx has not just been having to take care of the patients in our own community, but also needing to help the patients in surrounding states that don’t have access to abortion,” Gibson said. “What we have certainly found is that our clinics are definitely impacted by the surge of patients’ needs to access care.”

Gibson added the increased demand has at times made it difficult for women in Arizona to access care quickly.

“The 15-week ban certainly cuts off access to many Arizonans who need abortion services and so certainly on a weekly basis we’re sending multiple patients to California to get the care they need beyond 15 weeks,” Gibson said.

According to PPAZ wait times for an abortion vary, but currently, the Glendale clinic is booked a week out. The health care provider is only booking 50% of its appointments in advance allowing the other half for walk-in appointments.

Fonteno added receiving the care is one thing, but patients both in Arizona and out of state also have to navigate the health care system, which she said can be confusing and challenging. To help, Planned Parenthood has launched a patient navigation system.

“We’ve created a patient navigator program to support people in receiving the abortion care they need but can’t obtain in our state or in their home states,” Fonteno said.

The navigator goes beyond assisting women in finding an appointment, as staff will help clients secure housing, gas cards and event childcare when needing to travel outside of the state for an abortion.

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Planned Parenthood Arizona grapples with obstacles 1 year after Roe v. Wade reversal