PHOENIX — Planned Parenthood filed a broad-based legal attack Thursday on a host of Arizona laws and regulations governing abortion, claiming the rights of women are being violated.
The lawsuit filed in federal court lists restrictions imposed over multiple years by the Arizona Legislature on who can perform what abortion-related services, requiring women to make two trips to a clinic and forbidding doctors from prescribing abortion medications via telemedicine.
Each of those, according to attorney Catalina Vergara, who represents Planned Parenthood, infringes on the constitutional right of women to terminate a pregnancy.
But the legal papers seeking to void those laws also ask a federal judge to look not just at the individual hurdles being placed in the path of women but what they say is the cumulative effect.
That 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.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the result is borne out in the fact that the number of abortions performed has dropped from about 10,000 a year a dozen years ago to fewer than 6,500 a year now.
Some of these same laws have been challenged in the past. That includes the mandate for patients to visit a clinic at least 24 hours ahead of an abortion and a prohibition against anyone but a licensed physician from surgically terminating a pregnancy.
In a 2011 ruling, state appellate court Judge Peter Swann rejected arguments that the restrictions impose undue restrictions on a woman’s constitutional right to choose. And he said it is legally irrelevant that nurse practitioners, who are more available in rural areas that abortion-trained doctors, have a comparable safety record.
But Planned Parenthood attorney Alice Clapman pointed out Thursday that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that abortion restrictions need to be judged on whether they create an “undue burden” on women. What that means, she said, is that courts look at the statutes “to determine if the benefits of the restriction outweigh the burdens.”
“When states restrict abortion under the guise of women’s health they have to actually produce evidence that the restrictions enhance patient safety,” Clapman said. She said several of the challenged statutes are “sham public safety laws where there’s no evidence of benefit.”
“The court is going to take a hard look at that evidence and really ask the state to justify these restrictions when they’re imposing a burden,” Clapman said.
But Cathi Herrod, whose Center for Arizona Policy has been behind crafting many of the statutes at issue, said they’re all justified and justifiable.
“Abortion is different than other medical procedures,” she told Capitol Media Services.
“It involves taking of a life, it involves risk to the woman’s health,” Herrod said. “So the state is completely justified in requiring only doctors perform abortions.”
She also defended the other challenged restrictions like a requirement for a personal consultation with a doctor 24 hours before terminating a pregnancy and forbidding doctors from prescribing the pills for a medication abortion unless there is a face-to-face visit.
“Women who are considering abortion deserve a chance to be one-on-one with a doctor before they take the abortion pill,” Herrod said.
The lawsuit surrounds three basic areas.
- First are what are known as “physician-only” rules, spelling out that spell out that abortions, both medical and surgical, as well as abortion-related procedures can be performed only by someone who is a doctor.
- Challengers also say there’s no medical reason to require women to visit a clinic and having an ultrasound at least 24 hours ahead of terminating a pregnancy for a consult with the physician.
- And the lawsuit says Arizona not only allows but encourages the use of telemedicine, allowing medical advice to be given and prescriptions to be written after a video conference with patients. But the lone exception is when an abortion is involved.