Arizona Sued Over Laws Restricting Abortion

TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Arizona’s abortion laws – including a telemedicine ban and an effective ban on abortion services by anyone other than a doctor – block access and violate the 14th Amendment, Planned Parenthood of Arizona and three health care providers say in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday.

“I am qualified to provide medication abortion,” said plaintiff Deanna Wright, a nurse practitioner. “I could safely provide medication abortion to women in underserved communities, but the state is stopping me.”

At issue are three areas of state law, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court: A ban on telemedicine; a collection of rules that effectively bar health care providers other than physicians from performing even basic services such as pregnancy screening, counseling, ultrasound interpretation and medication distribution; and a requirement that women visit a clinic twice before receiving an abortion.

The restrictions forced Planned Parenthood to close health centers in Yuma, Goodyear, Prescott Valley and Chandler and reduce services at other clinics, according to the lawsuit.

Three of the four remaining clinics are in metropolitan Tucson or Phoenix, leaving just one clinic in Flagstaff to cover the northern half of the state, including the Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation. That clinic didn’t offer abortions for three years because they couldn’t find a clinician who met all the state requirements, the lawsuit says.

The laws get between doctors and patients, said Dr. Leana Wen, Planned Parenthood Federation of America president.

“When politicians restrict the right to safe, legal abortion, they are directly interfering with medical practice and endangering women’s lives. We in the medical and public health community know that to improve health, we must get rid of these outdated, medically unnecessary restrictions,” she said in a statement.

Despite having championed telemedicine in other areas – University of Arizona has a robust telemedicine program serving many of the areas that lack abortion services – the state has banned its use for abortion-related health care. Meanwhile, the two-visit requirement delays and sometimes prevents women from getting health care, the plaintiffs claim in the lawsuit.

“Arizona lawmakers have made it difficult or even impossible for women to access safe, legal abortion,” said Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona. “Medically unnecessary laws that only serve to attack women’s rights and put women’s health at risk should be overturned to protect women’s health and rights.

The two-visit requirement means many women, some of whom live hundreds of miles from clinics that offer abortions and must sneak away from family members to get abortions, to arrange overnight travel and pay bus or other transportation costs – all undue burdens, the lawsuit says.

Plaintiff Wright is a registered nurse practitioner working for Planned Parenthood since 2015. She provides counseling, diagnoses and treats sexually transmitted infections, performs and interprets ultrasounds and offers other medical services. Plaintiff Paul Isaacson, a physician and the third plaintiff in the lawsuit, is an obstetrician-gynecologist who has been offering abortion services in Arizona for more than 20 years.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in a statement, “Planned Parenthood might be disappointed its business model is failing, but we’re talking about human beings, not appliances. Planned Parenthood should work to change the law if it doesn’t like the policies, not rely on the courts to do its bidding.”

The plaintiffs seek a court declaration that the laws violate women’s rights as protected by the 14th Amendment and a permanent injunction on enforcement of the laws.

They are represented by Catalina Vergara of O’Melveny & Myers, Planned Parenthood Federation of America counsel Alice Clapman, Center for Reproductive Rights counsel Marc Hearron, and Daniel Pasternak of Squire Patton Boggs.

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