Arizona Law Allowing Health Workers to Deny Birth Control Pills Challenged

     PHOENIX (CN) – Planned Parenthood challenges two new state laws that prohibit nurse practitioners from performing surgical abortions and allow health care employees to deny emergency contraception, birth control pills or abortions on “moral or religious grounds.” Arizona Senate Bill 1175 and House Bill 2564 are slated to take effect Sept. 30.

     Planned Parenthood Arizona says the bills are unconstitutional, echoing a claim that two medical clinics filed this week challenging HB 2564’s requirement that patients must visit a clinic twice, 24 hours apart, and receive counseling before an abortion.
     The new laws will prohibit registered nurse practitioners from providing surgical abortions, and require a physician to perform the procedure despite the Arizona Board of Nursing’s determination that nurses can “safely and competently” provide abortions.
     Surgical abortion is available through a woman’s first trimester. In it, a “hand-held suction device or a suction machine is used to gently empty the uterus,” the complaint states.
     Planned Parenthood says the number of abortion-providers in Arizona has dropped, leaving non-physicians the majority of providers. Almost “three-quarters of Arizona counties have no abortion provider,” the complaint states.
     The physician-only requirement for surgical abortion therefore restricts patients’ access to abortion in Arizona. This will force some patients to have a medical abortion early in their pregnancy instead of a surgical one, and patients who are too far along for a medical abortion “may not be able to obtain an abortion or may experience significant delays due to long wait times for an appointment and long travel distances,” the complaint states.
     The bills also require that written parental abortion consent must be notarized, “without providing safeguards against the notary log being disclosed pursuant to a public records request … jeopardizing the confidentiality of the minor and her family.”
     Planned Parenthood says the laws also expand Arizona’s “right to refuse” law, allowing health-care providers to refuse to perform an abortion or provide a woman with emergency contraception or birth control pills even in emergencies.
     The House bill allows pharmacies and pharmacists to refuse to refill birth control pill prescriptions and refuse to “tell women where they could get their contraceptive prescriptions filled, even though a delay in getting a birth control prescription filled puts a woman at risk of an unintended pregnancy,” according to the complaint.
     This discriminates “against women who have chosen to have an abortion or to use contraception by imposing on them medically unnecessary restrictions that have no parallels in any other medical context,” Planned Parenthood says.
     Planned Parenthood Arizona operates 19 health centers in Arizona that serve more than 70,000 patients a year.
     It wants the Arizona Medical Board and the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery enjoined from enforcing the bills and wants Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett to notify notaries to keep any “notarial acts involving parental consent for abortion” confidential.
     Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard; Lisa Wynn, executive director of the Arizona Medical Board; and Elaine Letarte, executive director of the Arizona Board of Osteopathic Examiners in Medicine and Surgery, are also named as defendants.
     Planned Parenthood Arizona is represented by Lawrence J. Rosenfeld and Daniel B. Pasternak with Greenberg Traurig.

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