GLENDALE - Stung by last week's appellate court ruling, Planned Parenthood is no longer offering abortions at seven of its 10 Arizona locations.
The change, effective today, involves more than just complying with the court's ruling that a variety of restrictions placed on abortion providers by lawmakers in 2009 are legal, said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood in Arizona. Those include a 24-hour waiting period on abortions and a requirement that surgical abortions be performed only by a doctor.
Howard said the ruling, if upheld, undermines efforts by Planned Parenthood to fight an even broader curb on the practice enacted just this year: a ban on specially trained nurse practitioners offering even nonsurgical abortions, which use medications instead of instruments.
So Planned Parenthood is dropping its legal bid to bar the state from enforcing that law, allowing the latest restrictions to take effect next month.
But Howard is not waiting. He said Thursday that both surgical and medical abortions from Planned Parenthood will now be available only at its locations in Glendale, Tempe and one of its Tucson sites near Tucson Medical Center.
There will be no more Planned Parenthood abortions in Yuma, Flagstaff, Prescott Valley, Goodyear, Chandler, Phoenix and the other Tucson location. All the sites will remain open for other services, however, including family planning, which Howard said becomes more important than ever with the abortion curbs.
The basic problem, Howard said, is the requirements of both the 2009 and 2011 laws leave Arizona Planned Parenthood with just six full- and part-time doctors to handle nearly 10,000 abortions a year, including a new state mandate for face-to-face doctor meetings with patients ahead of time.
"The real challenge is the shortage of physicians who are trained and who, I might also add, are willing to ensure the risk of protests from opponents of abortion," he said.
But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said Planned Parenthood was simply making "a business decision" in ending abortions at the seven sites.
"They will end their services rather than raising the standard of care to meet the law's requirement," she said. "All Planned Parenthood had to do was to find doctors to work at their clinics to continue providing the abortion services."
Herrod also brushed aside Howard's contention that medical practitioners who perform abortions face harassment or possibly worse.
"It's been years since you've seen any protests outside of a doctor's house in this state," she said. And while she acknowledged the threats on doctors elsewhere, "we haven't had hardly any of that in this state," Herrod said.
Those protests, Howard countered, are real. He said a nurse practitioner in Flagstaff who has been providing nonsurgical abortions has had protesters in the driveway of her home.
"When word gets around, as it does in the health-care community, about facing that kind of risk for yourself and your family, I think some medical professionals think twice," Howard said.
Complicating matters from Planned Parenthood's perspective is the fact that state law bans the teaching of abortion at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. Howard said that limits the number of new doctors who can be hired.
Herrod, however, said that's only partly true, and that emergency training at the school includes dilation and curettage, essentially a scraping of the uterine lining.
"A doctor who is trained to do a D and C following a miscarriage of a pregnancy is trained to do an abortion," she said. "So it's not an issue of training. It's an issue of doctors not being willing to participate in a procedure that hurts women and takes the lives of preborn children."
Howard said attorneys for Planned Parenthood are still reviewing last week's appellate court ruling. He said a final decision of whether to seek review by the Arizona Supreme Court will come by mid-September.
He acknowledged that federal courts have rejected arguments that similar restrictions enacted by other states, including the waiting period and physician-only abortions, are unconstitutional. But Howard noted that the Arizona Constitution has protections beyond its federal counterpart.
"The state constitution actually says the government shall not interfere in the private affairs of its citizens," he said. "And there are (court) precedents where that definition of 'private affairs' has included medical decision-making."
Howard brushed aside the fact that abortions were not legal in Arizona in 1912 when that provision was adopted.
"Well, we didn't bring the claim in 1912; we brought it in 2011," he said. "We stand by our analysis, and we will be moving up to the Supreme Court unless something about our analysis changes."