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Arizona's reinstated ban on abortions leaves providers and patients confused


Abortion is illegal in Arizona, but what that means exactly is still under contention more than 100 days after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. Arizona prosecutors say they are confused over which of two laws applies.

Here to explain is Katherine Davis-Young, who's following this closely at member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Hey there.


KELLY: All right. So the backdrop here - Arizona lawmakers had passed a law before the Supreme Court struck down Roe saying if the court did overturn Roe, there would be a ban on abortion in Arizona after 15 weeks. So they were trying to get out ahead of this. What happened?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Right. There's this 15-week law. But Arizona also has an older, even more restrictive abortion ban that dates back to the Civil War era. And that's never been repealed. It makes exceptions only to save the life of the mother, and it makes performing an abortion punishable by two to five years in prison. So when Roe v. Wade was overturned, Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich said he thought the near total ban should go back into effect.

KELLY: He thought it should go into effect. But did he need state courts to weigh in?

DAVIS-YOUNG: Right. So I should point out that at the time, Brnovich was also trying to win the Republican Party nomination for Senate, which he ultimately did not. But he had asked the court to reconsider this 1970s decision that had blocked enforcement of this Civil War-era abortion ban. And a couple of weeks ago, a judge granted Brnovich's request.

KELLY: OK. So that would seem to suggest that this even stricter ban on abortion, this law that's more than a century old, that is what is now in effect in Arizona.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Well, now both of these laws are technically in effect, and the judge declined to weigh in on how the two should interact with each other. So there's still this major confusion. Planned Parenthood is appealing the ruling. And the county attorney for the Phoenix area, Rachel Mitchell, has even released a statement saying if any abortion-related cases come before her office, she'll have to ask the courts for guidance.

RACHEL MITCHELL: Friday's Pima County Superior Court decision regarding abortion and the subsequent appeal have not resolved which law among conflicting statutes now applies.

KELLY: It sounds so confusing. What is the attorney general who pushed for the old law, Brnovich, what's he saying now?

DAVIS-YOUNG: So now, even he is saying this is all too unclear. He's asked our governor to call a special legislative session, but there's no indication if that might happen. Arizona's regular session starts in January. And if there's not a special session, what lawmakers do will depend on the November election. Polling suggests this abortion ban is hugely unpopular, so it's become a huge issue up and down the ballot now in Arizona.

KELLY: So bottom line, if prosecutors are not sure which law they are supposed to be following, are any abortions being performed in Arizona?

DAVIS-YOUNG: No. The law may be unclear, but the impact is very clear. Abortions have pretty much entirely stopped in our state since this judge's ruling. Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick says her clinic in Phoenix has had to cancel dozens of appointments just in the last couple weeks. She's really frustrated and describes the situation as inhumane.

GABRIELLE GOODRICK: It's an awful feeling. Patients are upset. They're confused, angry and scared about what they're going to do. And this isn't changing their minds. They're just going to seek care outside of the state or with self-managed abortion.

KELLY: Reporting there from Katherine Davis-Young of member station KJZZ in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katie Davis-Young