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Abortion access is about to become more restricted in Arizona, but by how much?


Abortion access is about to become more restricted in Arizona. This week, a judge is expected to decide between two laws - an old abortion ban could be reinstated or a less-restrictive law passed this year could be enacted. Katherine Davis-Young from member station KJZZ in Phoenix reports.

KATHERINE DAVIS-YOUNG, BYLINE: There were no patients around when I visited Dr. DeShawn Taylor's Phoenix family-planning clinic on a recent Monday. Back when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Taylor stopped all abortion services. She's since resumed medication abortions, but she hasn't been able to bring back enough staff to take on patients who need surgical abortions.

DESHAWN TAYLOR: To know that those people are going without care is particular distressing to me. Those are the people who absolutely are having to leave the state.

DAVIS-YOUNG: There are nine abortion clinics in Arizona. Many, like Taylor's, have paused or limited services over the last 2 1/2 months. That's because it hasn't been totally clear what's legal in Arizona after Roe.

TAYLOR: Our leaders are supposed to tell us what laws are in effect and how we are to comply, and that didn't happen.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich says with Roe overturned, Arizona's oldest abortion law should now go into effect. It's a near-total ban that dates back to the 1860s, before Arizona was even a state. But in the century and a half since then, Arizona has made dozens of other laws related to abortion. Just this year, the Legislature voted to outlaw the procedure after 15 weeks gestation.

SARAH MAC DOUGALL: The Arizona Legislature could have had the territorial ban go back into effect if Dobbs were to overturn Roe, but they didn't.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Sarah Mac Dougall, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, says those more recent laws suggest elected officials intended to allow abortions in Arizona, at least in some circumstances.

MAC DOUGALL: The AG is essentially seeking an undemocratic way to re-implement a total ban on abortion when that is not what the Arizona Legislature has said most recently.

DAVIS-YOUNG: The attorney general's office declined to provide an interview for this story. But in court, Attorney Beau Roysden, with the office, argued abortion laws Arizona passed after Roe were only written the way they were because that ruling was still in place.

BEAU ROYSDEN: Those laws were passed by the Legislature because the Supreme Court said you are required to recognize a constitutional right to abortion.

DAVIS-YOUNG: He argued the new 15-week law doesn't overturn the old ban. Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson is expected to give her opinion this week. Abortion will be further restricted whatever she decides. If she sides with the attorney general, Arizona would go back to its near-total ban. If she sides with Planned Parenthood, the new 15-week law would take effect Saturday. But Johnson probably won't have the final say. Either side would be likely to appeal, so the case could eventually end up before the mostly conservative Arizona Supreme Court. So for Arizona abortion providers like DeShawn Taylor, the future is still uncertain.

TAYLOR: This moment is going to have repercussions for generations to come.

DAVIS-YOUNG: Taylor says the court case is only one concern for her. She's also thinking about what might happen in November's election or in the legislative session that begins in January, where lawmakers will no longer be bound by Roe.

TAYLOR: I'm quite sure that if we have the current people running the state continue to run the state, it is their intention that abortion is completely illegal in this state.

DAVIS-YOUNG: For now, she says she just won't book new appointments until after the judge rules.

For NPR News, I'm Katherine Davis-Young in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF PAVANE'S "PERCEES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Katherine Davis-Young