Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO: Why Court Ruling Is a Blow to Abortion Rights

Posted By on Tue, Aug 16, 2011 at 1:00 PM

Arizona’s abortion opponents had a good day in court last week, when the Arizona Court of Appeals lifted an injunction that blocked a 2009 law from going into effect.

As a result, abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood will now have to follow the provisions of Abortion Consent Act, whose provisions had been placed on hold by a lower court.

Gov. Jan Brewer cheered the decision as “a great day for Arizona women and parents.”

“The 2009 Abortion Consent Act empowers women by giving them the objective information they need prior to deciding whether to have an abortion,” Brewer said in a statement. “Women deserve all the facts from their physician, in-person, before making such a critical decision. Today’s court decision will help guarantee that.”

Not surprisingly, Planned Parenthood Arizona CEO Bryan Howard disagrees.

“There’s no scenario that came out of last week that’s a good one in terms of real-life Arizona women,” Howard says. “We have to figure out what the implications are.”

Without getting too deeply into the details, the legal situation is complicated. We’ll try to explain in a future post, but here’s the nutshell:

There’s a separate lawsuit regarding other abortion restrictions with the so-called “abortion pill” and the Court of Appeals sorta issued a pre-emptive ruling on the overall lawsuit, even though the case remains in the lower court and the appellate judges were technically considering question of whether an injunction against the law should remain in place, according to Howard.

Bottom line: It’s a murky legal environment and Planned Parenthood’s lawyers are still sorting out under what conditions the organization can offer abortion services.

But here’s what the ruling means: With the injunction lifted, women seeking abortions will now have to hear a Legislature-approved script in a face-to-face conversation with a doctor at least 24 hours before they undergo the procedure. That means the information can’t be relayed via a phone call or a video hook-up. The script has to be read in a face-to-face, person-to-person exchange.

Planned Parenthood has been making sure that women hear the script at least 24 hours before they get an abortion since the law was passed—but they’ve been using nurses to read the information to women over the phone. That will no longer be sufficient.

Howard says nurses have been reading the information—which has a number of statements that have nothing to do with medical care, such as the services available to single moms—because Arizona already has a shortage of doctors who can provide abortion care, so adding another in-person consultation to their schedule presents a problem. For Planned Parenthood, which provides about 10,000 abortions to women annually, that would mean 10,000 new consultations.

“It wouldn’t make any sense to hire a physician to read a script, nor would a physician be willing to use her medical education to just read to patients,” Howard says.

Howard tells The Range that Planned Parenthood would probably not have to close any health centers that provide cancer screenings, pap smears, birth control and other services, but the organization would have trouble providing abortion services outside of Phoenix and Tucson. That means women who live in rural Arizona will have a much harder time getting an abortion.

Howard expects the organization would have a better idea of how they will move forward later this week, but the legal fight over the restrictions is not over.

“We continue to pursue these cases,” Howard says.

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