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California clinics brace for fallout from Arizona abortion ban

Planned Parenthood clinics in California are bracing for an uptick in patients crossing the state line for abortions, after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a nearly total prohibition on the procedure.

By Deborah Brennan, CalMatters - April 10, 2024
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A title sign sits outside a Planned Parenthood branch, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Pasadena, California. A man who waged a year-long series of BB gun attacks on a California Planned Parenthood clinic has been sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.
A title sign sits outside a Planned Parenthood branch in Pasadena, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Planned Parenthood clinics in California are bracing for an uptick in patients crossing the state line for abortions, after the Arizona Supreme Court upheld a nearly total prohibition on the procedure.

On Tuesday the court effectively banned abortion by reinstating an 1864 law that forbids the procedure except to save a mother’s life, without exemptions for rape or incest. 

“We were all saddened by the decision, and one of my colleagues at a different clinic said ‘Wow, we’re going to get slammed,’” said Mia Neustein, a nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood clinics in the Coachella Valley. 

Health care providers said the Arizona decision complicates the chaotic national women’s health environment that has prevailed since 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed abortion rights.

Later in 2022, Arizona banned abortions after 15 weeks, leading to confusion among patients and providers about what was allowed. The new decision deepens that uncertainty.

The ban is set to take effect in two weeks. Although the ruling calls for prison time for abortion providers, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said in a statement her office won’t prosecute any women or doctors for abortions.

“By effectively striking down a law passed this century and replacing it with one from 160 years ago, the court has risked the health and lives of Arizonans,” she said.

Abortion ban confusion

Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino Counties saw a slight increase, 13 more abortion patients a month, from Arizona in its nine clinics in 2022, said Nichole Ramirez, a spokesperson for the regional organization. That accounted for almost a third of out-of-state visits, she said, second only to Texas. 

“There was a lot of confusion about which law was actually in place” in Arizona, she said. “They had a tangled web of conflicting laws.”

The clinics prepared for an influx by opening more appointment slots and training providers.

Over time the number of Arizona patients dropped to about five per month, but officials assume it may jump back up to about 13 under the more stringent ban, Hicks said. Overall, out-of-state patients account for about 2% of total abortion services at the clinics, she said.

“It is a small amount, but it is an incredibly important amount, because we’re so proud that we are able to help out these needy women,” Ramirez said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and other political leaders have designated California a sanctuary for abortion rights, and invested more than $200 million for those services, said Brandon Richards, a spokesperson for Newsom. That includes $20 million to cover costs such as travel, meals, hotels and childcare for people seeking abortions in California. A separate fund covers medical costs of the procedure.

Increased pressure

California leaders are also coordinating with Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs “to ensure Arizonans know that California has their back and have resources available should they seek care in our state,” he said.

Despite the funding bump, some California clinics are coping with increased demand for abortions, coupled with other work stresses and staffing shortages. They expect the Arizona decision to heighten those pressures.

In the Coachella Valley, those pressures led workers to unionize at Planned Parenthood clinics in Rancho Mirage and Coachella last year. Officials with their parent organization, Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, were not available to comment but said in a statement that about 10% of their patients come from other states. 

“We really believe in the mission,”  said Neustein, the nurse practitioner. “We really want patients to be able to access these services, but in this case, they’re really restricted. So it really tugs at our heartstrings, but we’re already struggling with maintaining patient care that is sustainable, with reasonable wait times, and that doesn’t burn out the workers.”

This story was originally published in CalMatters


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