New abortion restrictions take effect

2011-09-13T00:00:00Z New abortion restrictions take effectHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
September 13, 2011 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - New restrictions on abortion are set to take effect today after Planned Parenthood Arizona announced Monday that it will not appeal a ruling that allows several of the measures to become law.

Key changes now in place are:

• One restriction enacted by the Legislature in 2009 requires women to first have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion. Until now, that information could be provided by telephone by specially trained nurse practitioners.

• Doctors and pharmacists will no longer have to dispense the "morning after" pill if that violates their personal beliefs, another 2009 law.

• A third 2009 change makes it illegal for specially training nurse practitioners to perform early-term surgical abortions.

• Earlier this year, legislators approved yet another restriction, making even non-surgical abortions off-limits to nurse practitioners.

Planned Parenthood will continue trying to overturn the ban on nurse practitioners performing non-surgical abortions, even though that law, like the others, takes effect today.

Bryan Howard, president of the organization, said it makes no financial sense to ask the Supreme Court to reverse last month's decision by the Court of Appeals to allow the 2009 limits to take effect. In voiding an injunction against the provisions, the court issued a point-by-point ruling explaining why lawmakers are empowered to impose the restrictions.

The result is abortions, once available at all 10 Planned Parenthood sites around the state, now are being offered only in Glendale, Tempe and one of the organization's two Tucson locations.

Howard said the changes mean women likely will have to wait longer before they can have an abortion. If the delay is significant for many women, that could provide ammunition for a new court fight, he said.

Women will now have to arrange to take time off from work, and potentially arrange child care, for two trips rather than one. He said that presents particular hurdles for women in rural areas who will have to make two separate trips to the Phoenix or Tucson areas or arrange to stay overnight.

He also said Planned Parenthood does not have enough doctors on staff to do the pre-abortion counseling, which he estimated will require 3,000 hours a year.

With all abortions having to be performed by a limited number of available doctors, Howard said that will create waiting lines, which, in turn, could push women beyond the ninth week, forcing them to have a surgical abortion, rather than just take a couple of pills.

It that happens, it could give Planned Parenthood the new ammunition for a separate challenge it is making to this year's law on medical abortions.

Howard said the key here is the cumulative effect of the delays. He said a court might conclude all the restrictions are unconstitutional because they harm women by denying them the right to a less risky procedure.

But Deborah Sheasby, attorney for the Center for Arizona Policy, which crafted the restrictions, said those arguments won't work.

She said the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 upheld the right of states to enact restrictions on abortions even if they did result in longer waiting periods before some women could exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

A large percentage of women would have to be affected before a restriction would be considered improper, she said, expressing doubts Howard's data will be enough to meet that standard.

Legal issues aside, Howard said that Planned Parenthood is looking for ways to minimize the impact of the new restrictions, such as training outside doctors to provide the pre-procedure counseling.

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