Abortions resume in northern Arizona's 'abortion desert' while 1864 near-total ban looms

Planned Parenthood Arizona is resuming abortion services in northern Arizona, even as a near-total ban on abortions in the state is set to take effect.

Medication abortions are resuming at Planned Parenthood Arizona's Flagstaff clinic, which has started accepting appointments, Planned Parenthood Arizona announced Monday. Planned Parenthood leaders say they plan to continue offering abortion care in Arizona "for as long as we possibly and lawfully can" in spite of the state Supreme Court's April 9 ruling to uphold an 1864 near-total abortion ban.

More than half of abortions in both the U.S. and Arizona are medication abortions, using what are sometimes referred to as abortion pills − a two-drug combination recommended for use up to 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The Arizona Supreme Court stayed enforcement of the 160-year-old abortion ban for 14 days to allow legal challenges that had not yet been heard, including the constitutionality of the law.

The Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom, which won the case before the state's top court, said enforcement of the ban could begin in 14 days. But some providers including Planned Parenthood said abortion services would continue through May because of a Maricopa County Superior Court order barring enforcement of the ban for 45 days after the Supreme Court's ruling becomes final.

Northern Arizona had been an 'abortion desert,' Planned Parenthood says

Northern Arizona has been an abortion desert and patients with the means to do so have had to travel hundreds of miles to access care, Planned Parenthood officials said in a news release on Monday, explaining why they are resuming abortion care there.

The Flagstaff clinic, one of the four Arizona clinics where Planned Parenthood historically has offered abortions, stopped providing abortion care in June 2022 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided to reverse the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which had provided constitutional protection for obtaining an abortion.

After chaos and confusion following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling and intermittent pauses in care because of legal actions, abortion providers throughout the state, including Planned Parenthood, lost staff members and had trouble hiring new ones.

As a result, abortion care at Planned Parenthood's Arizona clinics has been slow to ramp up, though with the addition of Flagstaff, all four clinics are now once again offering abortion care. The other three clinics are in Tempe, Glendale and Tucson.

The number of abortions performed in Arizona declined from 13,998 in 2021 to 11,530 in 2022, a drop of about 18%, the most recent state abortion report from the Arizona Department of Health Services says.

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'We will not be intimidated or silenced'

“As a native North Arizonan, I’m thrilled Planned Parenthood Arizona is bringing abortion care back to the Flagstaff community after nearly two years,” said Angela Florez, Planned Parenthood Arizona president and CEO.

“We will not be intimidated or silenced by anti-abortion extremists, because we know the overwhelming majority of Arizonans support the right to abortion. We will continue to use every avenue to fight for a future where all Arizonans can make decisions about our lives, our bodies, and our futures.”

Providers and health experts say the April 9 decision will increase maternal mortality and put more Arizonans at risk of staying in abusive relationships and becoming economically unstable. The people most at risk are disenfranchised communities, including young people and people of color.

Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes has said that as long as she is attorney general, "no woman or doctor will be prosecuted under this draconian law in this state."

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs also said that as long as she is governor, "no Arizonan will be prosecuted by extremist county attorneys for seeking abortion care.”

Exactly how much Arizona providers would be protected in the event they ignore the 1864 law altogether is not entirely clear, and some abortion providers have said they are consulting with lawyers to determine their next steps.

Republic reporter Stacey Barchenger contributed to this article.

Reach health care reporter Stephanie Innes at Stephanie.Innes@gannett.com or follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @stephanieinnes.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona abortion ban looms while northern AZ resumes abortion care