PHOENIX — A Phoenix abortion clinic has come up with a way for patients who can end their pregnancy using a pill to get the medication quickly without running afoul of a resurrected Arizona law that bans most abortions.
Under the arrangement that began Monday, patients will have an ultrasound in Arizona, get a prescription through a telehealth appointment with a California doctor and then have it mailed to a post office in a California border town for pickup, all for free.
While not as easy as before an Arizona judge ruled that a pre-statehood law criminalizing nearly all abortions could be enforced nearly two weeks ago, the process saves an overnight trip to a major California city with an abortion clinic. And it is more accessible than the previous workaround used by Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix, which was to have a doctor in Sweden prescribe the pills and a pharmacy in India mail them to Arizona. That could take up to three weeks.
Ashleigh Feiring, a nurse at the clinic, said the cost of the pills will be covered by the Abortion Fund of Arizona, which is helping women pay for out-of-state access to abortions. Women can use a pill for an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. Pills and surgical abortions were legal until about 24 weeks until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June and allowed states to ban all abortions.
The Food and Drug Administration earlier this year permanently removed rules requiring in-person consultations with a provider before women can receive a medication abortion, allowing women to have a telehealth appointment and get the pills through the mail.
But Arizona has a law that bans mailing the pills, as well as the law that bans all abortions unless the life of the mother is in jeopardy. That has led clinics to make arrangements with clinics in New Mexico and California to treat patients who wanted to access the abortion pill as well as those more than 12 weeks along who need a surgical abortion.
At Camelback Family Planning, Feiring said they are not worried about doing ultrasounds and post-abortion care for those who use the pill to have an abortion.
“We’re not providing abortions," Feiring said. "We’re just giving people information.”
Those who get the pills mailed to one of three California towns along the border with Arizona would pick them up with the post office and take the first medication there before returning home and taking the second medicine. They would return to the clinic in about a week for a follow-up exam.
Cathi Herrod, president of the social conservative organization Center for Arizona Policy and the architect of many of Arizona's tough abortion restrictions, slammed the proposal.
“The plan for abortion pills shows a stunning disregard for the health and well-being of the mother,” Herrod said.
Despite the FDA approval, Herrod argues that abortion pills have significant consequences and women need an in-person exam and follow-up care.
"I’m not surprised that the abortion industry would care more about their bottom line and about selling pills than they would about taking care of women still,” she said.
Planned Parenthood Arizona said it has a team of patient navigators to inform them of their options, including having and keeping the baby, putting it up for adoption, or going out of state for an abortion, according to President and CEO Brittany Fonteno.
If the patient decides to have an abortion but can't afford the new costs, Planned Parenthood will work with the patient to arrange for care. Help with the added expenses will come from either Planned Parenthood funds or money from the two abortion funds in the state. This will pay for travel, lodging, child care and other needs.
“It’s doing everything that we have within our power to break down those barriers to care,” Fonteno said. Planned Parenthood was the largest provider in the state before the ban.
Arizona is among several Republican-led states that bar delivery of abortion pills though the mail. It is one of 14 states with near-total abortion bans that the Supreme Court allowed when it overturned Roe.
About 13,000 Arizona women had abortions last year, about half with a pill. Most occurred before the 15th week of pregnancy.