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Tue, Sept. 17

New abortion restrictions taking effect

New abortion restrictions are taking effect in Arizona in the wake of intertwined legal challenges that so far have failed to block provisions of state laws enacted this year and in 2009.

Challenged provisions of the 2009 law took effect Monday because Planned Parenthood Arizona decided against appealing a lower court's ruling upholding most of the challenged provisions. And the 2011 law's provisions take effect early today when a separate court order expired at midnight Monday.

The new restrictions include a mandate that women be briefed by a physician on a state-mandated list of risks and alternatives 24 hours before getting an abortion. Another extends facility and staffing requirements to medication abortions that already are in place for clinics that provide surgical abortions. Those include allowing only physicians to perform medication abortions, which nurse practitioners have been providing.

Citing a shortage of physicians and other factors, Planned Parenthood said it has already scaled back its abortion services in response to the new restrictions. Planned Parenthood, the state's largest abortion provider, said it now provides abortion services at three locations in the Phoenix and Tucson areas, down from 10 previously. Those included clinics in Yuma, Flagstaff and Prescott Valley.

CEO Bryan Howard said Planned Parenthood was not appealing the Court of Appeals' Aug. 11 ruling that upheld the constitutionality of challenged provisions of the 2009 law.

Given the "dire circumstances" of many women across the state and the Legislature's willingness to restrict abortion rights, "we need to focus on patients right now, not politicians," he said.

Howard said Planned Parenthood will collect data on the laws' effects on availability of abortion services, particularly for low-income women and rural residents who now face the prospect of having to make overnight trips to Phoenix and Tucson.

Anticipated impacts include new delays that will cause some women to abort their pregnancies later, perhaps after the nine-week limit on getting a medication abortion, Howard said.

Meanwhile, the organization is enlisting help from physicians who have volunteered to provide newly required briefings, Howard said.

An attorney for an anti-abortion group that lobbied for approval of the new laws reiterated the group's position that the new restrictions will provide important safeguards for women considering abortions.

"Women in rural areas deserve the same standard of care as women in urban areas," said Deborah Sheasby of the Center for Arizona Policy. "It's not acceptable to offer substandard care in the name of providing greater access to rural women."

Recent legal developments regarding the 2009 and 2011 laws focused on attempts to block implementation of the laws, not overturn them. Planned Parenthood dropped its request to block the 2011 law after the Court of Appeals ruled on similar legal issues in the case of the 2009 law.

While the implementation questions have been resolved, the underlying challenges, at least technically, remain alive.

The lawsuit against the 2009 law is considered dormant and the challenge to the 2011 law next would go to trial, though no date has been set, attorneys said.

"We are pursuing it. But ... it's going to take a while," Howard said. "These are laws that we and the woman are going to have to live with for a while."

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