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California looks to give practice privileges to Arizona abortion providers

Move comes in wake of potential ban in next few weeks

Posted 4/22/24

PHOENIX — California is preparing emergency legislation to allow abortion providers from Arizona to practice there if and when the procedure once again becomes illegal here.

The medical …

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Health care

California looks to give practice privileges to Arizona abortion providers

Move comes in wake of potential ban in next few weeks


PHOENIX — California is preparing emergency legislation to allow abortion providers from Arizona to practice there if and when the procedure once again becomes illegal here.

The medical director of Planned Parenthood said Monday it may come to that. In fact, Dr. Jill Gibson said she and some of her staffers already have become licensed in that state, a move that occurred after a 2022 ruling by a trial judge here that temporarily brought abortions to a halt.

But Gibson told Capitol Media Services she’s not sure if that’s really a practical solution while waiting to see whether state lawmakers protect the procedure — at least until the 15th week of pregnancy — or Arizona voters approve a measure putting a right to abortion in the state constitution.

“I also am a mom of three young daughters,” she said.

“And I have commitments in my community,” Gibson continued. “It’s a difficult thing to ask providers to have to leave the state to provide essential health care.”

The idea of cross-border care gained steam this weekend with comments by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Speaking with Jen Psaki on MSNBC, the governor said he is working with lawmakers there to introduce a measure to ensure medical practitioners who are licensed to perform the procedure in Arizona can continue to do so — in California — if the 1864 law is once again allowed to be enforced.

That statute prohibits abortion except to save the life of the mother. Medical providers convicted of violating the law can be sentenced to up to five years in state prison.

“I’m so focused on Arizona and providing doctors from Arizona the ability to come into California through emergency legislation,” Newsom said. “We’ll introduced with our Women’s Caucus this week ... to address the crisis at hand.”

In his comments, Newsom said he was working under the assumption the Arizona Supreme Court decision allowing enforcement of the territorial-era would take effect on May 1.

That appears to not be the case. Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes said she believes the earliest that territorial-era law could be enforce again is June 8.

But that doesn’t provide much time for California lawmakers to craft and enact a contingency plan that does not yet exist.

“We will have more details in the coming days,” said Newsom spokesman Brandon Richards.

For the moment, Gibson is taking a wait-and-see approach.

“It’s painful that we’re even having to consider not just taking our patients but our providers out of state to provide a simple and effective method of a medical procedure,” she said.

“While we are grateful that everyone is exploring every possible avenue to ensure that our patients are going to get the care that they need, it’s really despicable that we’ve even gotten to this point,” Gibson said. “I think there is a sense of solidarity that we feel when we see the public officials bringing attention to this issue.”

Still, Gibson said, doctors and women in Arizona need to recognize reality.

“Arizona is very likely going to have a period in which we’re not allowed to provide abortions,” she said.

That’s exactly what happened in late 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that women have a constitutional right of abortion.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson ruled that meant each state enforced its own laws. The judge noted Arizona had never repealed its law dating back to territorial days even though it was unenforceable under Roe.

The state Court of Appeals interceded, declaring a 2022 law allowing abortions until the 15th week of pregnancy took precedence. But the Supreme Court, in a 4-2 ruling earlier this month, sided with Johnson.

That sent lawmakers who support abortion rights scurrying to repeal the old law, an act that would leave just the 15-week measure on the books. But efforts to do that have so far been stymied by House Speaker Ben Toma using his power to preclude bringing a measure to do just that to the full House for a vote.

Supporters of the 15-week law continue to insist there eventually will be the votes to repeal the older law. But there appears to be no way that can come ahead of the June 8 deadline , triggering Gibson’s conclusion that abortions in Arizona will have to cease.

The idea of working across state lines, she said, is not new, and started with Johnson’s original ruling.

“We have real strong partnerships that we’ve formed with other affiliates in neighboring states,” Gibson said, including both California and Colorado. In fact, Gibson said she used the opportunity to get a license to practice in California.

“I recognized there was a possibility I might not be able to care for my patients in my community,” she said.

For the moment, Gibson said, the focus of Planned Parenthood providers is providing care for the patients already in front of them “for however long we can.”

“And if we are in a position where we are in a blackout and not able to provide abortion in the state, then, yes, we will change our operational plan and figure out what we need to do,” she said.

Gibson said the issue goes beyond patient care.

“We need to keep our skills up,” she said. And having abortions available in Arizona would ensure there is an opportunity to train the next generation of both attending physicians and residents who may find themselves needing to provide such care in the future.