PHOENIX — An organization that counsels women not to terminate their pregnancies wants the right to help Arizona’s attorney general fend off legal challenges by Planned Parenthood to the state’s abortion laws.
The Choices Pregnancy Center says it has “unique interests to defend and information to supply” in the legal fight between Planned Parenthood and the state.
Specifically, attorney Kevin Theriot told U.S. District Court Judge Jennifer Zipps the organization is concerned that Planned Parenthood seeks to void a state law that requires a woman to wait 24 hours between her first visit to a doctor and actually getting an abortion.
“If plaintiffs prevail, many women will no longer learn — with at least 24 hours to act on that knowledge — the private agencies and services like Choices are available to assist,” he wrote. “Nor will they learn of Arizona’s list of agencies that offer alternatives to abortions, on which list Choices is specifically included.”
Planned Parenthood is asking the judge to reject allowing Choices Pregnancy Center to intervene in the case. Catalina Vergara, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said Choices has no legitimate interest in the laws regulating abortions as it is not a medical provider affected by the statutes.
“CPC moves to intervene in this case not to protect any concrete interests of its own, but to advocate for restricting the options of Arizonans seeking access to safe, legal abortion,” she wrote. “It has no more of a stake in this litigation than any other Arizonan who opposes women’s reproductive rights.”
Choice’s own legal filings acknowledge its aim is to deter women from terminating pregnancies by preserving existing laws.
“If plaintiffs succeed, more women will abort without all the information necessary to make a fully informed decision,” Theriot said. “This will cause more women to later come to regret their choice to abort and struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound when they learn, only after the event, what they once did not know about the implications of their decision and the options that had been available to them.”
Theriot also told Zipps that Choices has a financial interest in the outcome of the case. He said if it has to devote more dollars to helping women with post-abortion regret, it will have less money to reach out to pregnant women considering abortion in hopes of convincing them otherwise.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said all that is precisely the reason Choices should be kept out of the litigation.
He said it’s one thing for his organization and the attorney general to fight over what kind of restrictions the state can constitutionally impose on abortion providers and the women they serve. Those, Howard said, are legal questions.
But Choices, he said, operates on an ideological basis, something he called an inappropriate issue for federal courts.
“It actually will inject political ideology into litigation that is about health care regulations,” Howard said. “It will muddy the waters.”
At stake is how many entities Planned Parenthood will have to battle in its lawsuit claiming that some provisions of existing abortion laws are unconstitutional.
One is the rule that requires patients to visit clinics in person, twice and at least 24 hours apart, to receive certain state-mandated counseling before proceeding with abortion.
Planned Parenthood also is challenging statutes and rules that now prohibit anyone other than a licensed physician from providing abortions. That bars the use of nurse practitioners who are more available in rural areas than abortion-trained doctors.
And it also contests prohibitions on the use of telemedicine. Arizona law allows medical advice to be given and prescriptions to be written, after a video conference with patients, with the lone exception being when an abortion is involved.
This isn’t the first legal go-around on several of these issues.
In 2011 the state Court of Appeals upheld the restrictions, rejecting arguments that they impose undue restrictions on a woman’s constitutional right to choose to terminate a pregnancy.
Appellate Judge Peter Swann also said it’s legally irrelevant that nurse practitioners have a comparable safety record to doctors.
In filing suit earlier this year, attorneys for Planned Parenthood cited a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abortion restrictions need to be judged on whether they create an “undue burden” on women.
Attorney Alice Clapman said what that means is courts look at statutes “to determine if the benefits of the restriction outweigh the burdens.” And in this case, she said, the challenged statutes are “sham public safety laws where there’s no evidence of a benefit.”
In the new lawsuit, Planned Parenthood is asking Zipps to look not just at the individual hurdles being placed in the path of women but what they say is the cumulative effect.
The law, the legal papers say, has resulted in closure of Planned Parenthood clinics in Yuma, Goodyear, Prescott Valley and Chandler. And the Flagstaff clinic can provide abortion services only one day a week.
Howard said the cumulative effect of those laws has reduced the number of abortions performed from about 10,000 a dozen years ago to fewer than 6,500 now.
Ryan Anderson, a top aide to Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, put a different spin on the numbers.
“They are literally suing because their bottom line has been impacted,” he said.
Brnovich, who is opposed to abortion, is not objecting to having Choices Pregnancy Center become a party to the lawsuit.
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