PHOENIX – The ability of Arizona women to continue to have access to at least one form of abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade could depend on the state’s ability to enforce a little-known 2021 law.
This law makes it illegal to deliver abortion-inducing drugs to Arizona residents by courier, delivery, or courier. And that would shut down the ability of an Arizona woman, unable to terminate her pregnancy with the help of a state doctor, to get the medications she needs elsewhere.
But Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy who helped craft the legislation, acknowledged that preventing drugs from being sent to Arizona from a pharmacy in another state — or even another country — where abortion remains legal could be logistically difficult.
And it could provide an alternative method of self-help for women, at least in the early stages of pregnancy, whether or not Arizona bans abortions.
The whole question of whether women should be able to get abortion pills through the mail stems from an April 2021 decision by the Biden administration to temporarily cease enforcing a requirement that the first of two drugs required to terminate an abortion pregnancy must be delivered in person. This was in direct response to the COVID pandemic.
As the move was being considered, Arizona lawmakers approved language that makes it illegal to deliver abortion-inducing drugs to Arizona residents.
This provision, however, did not generate much debate as it was enclosed within a much larger 23-page measure that made a series of other changes to abortion law. Most notably – and the issue that received the most attention – was the one that made it a crime for a doctor to grant a woman’s request for an abortion knowing that the only reason was a fetal genetic abnormality. .
A federal judge, responding to a lawsuit, barred the provision from taking effect. And an offer by Attorney General Mark Brnovich to ask the US Supreme Court to intercede has so far gone unanswered.
But abortion providers and others who have sued for language genetic defects have never contested the mail-order issue. And that law is now on the books.
What makes the question relevant is that in December, while the United States Supreme Court was considering the issue of abortion rights, the United States Food and Drug Administration decided to permanently lift restriction of access to abortion pills. This now allows women anywhere to book telemedicine appointments with providers who can write them a prescription for the two-drug treatment and then have it mailed to the patient.
This could prove useful for women in states where abortions are banned if Roe v. Wade is overruled and states are allowed to ban the procedure outright.
Arizona has an abortion ban that has been on the books since territorial times. And Herrod and other abortion haters argue that it would become immediately binding if and when the judges overturn the 1973 ruling.
So the question is whether women in Arizona will still be able to circumvent the 2021 law and get abortion pills delivered.
“Abortion pills are being sent into this country from places like India, as I understand it,” Herrod said.
A website run by the National Women’s Health Network supports it, providing a link for online counseling for abortion pills by mail. There are, however, a few caveats.
“This service is provided by a licensed doctor from abroad,” he says. “The pills provided are generic versions of the drug which are shipped from an Indian online pharmacy.”
“So how to stop this is unclear to me,” Herrod said.
There are other options like traveling to another state where abortion will remain legal.
But for those not interested in driving or flying somewhere, there may be other ways to get a medical abortion in Arizona, regardless of state laws here.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 30 states still allow the prescription of abortion pills via telemedicine.
Physicians may be reluctant to serve out-of-state residents. But the National Women’s Health Network also has a workaround: Set up a “virtual mailbox” before scheduling an appointment for an online consultation, then ask the companies that provide these mailbox services to forward the elements.
The site, however, acknowledged that women consulting one of these out-of-state doctors by computer or phone may need to lie about their physical location at the time of the online consultation.
Herrod said that regardless of what people think about abortion, there are medically valid reasons not to let women self-medicate.
The procedure actually requires two drugs.
Mifepristone, also known as RU-486, stops pregnancy by terminating the fetus. A second pill, misoprostol, is designed to induce labor to expel the fetus.
It’s very different from plan B, which is designed to be taken shortly after unprotected sex.
Herrod said the two-drug procedure is only meant to be used during the 10th week of pregnancy. She said a woman who has not been seen by a doctor may not know if she is really beyond that point.
Then there is the question of whether a woman actually has an ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg has settled somewhere other than the uterus. Besides the fact that the fetus won’t survive, Herrod said an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy can put a woman’s health at risk.
But if Roe is overturned and abortion in all its forms becomes illegal in Arizona, the question for pregnant women is whether self-medication is worth the risk compared to alternatives, ranging from having to carry the baby to term to d other non-legal forms of abortion.
None of this will be necessary if the Supreme Court’s final opinion, rather than overturning Roe v. Wade, simply upholds Mississippi law and is a 15-week ban.
That would free Arizona to begin enforcing its identical 15-week ban signed earlier this year by Governor Doug Ducey. And medical abortions are not advised after the tenth week.
But even if Roe is overturned and states are free to adopt whatever restrictions they wish, Ducey argues that Arizona’s new law replaces the outright ban that dates back to territorial days. Herrod and Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who sponsored the new law, disagree, citing specific language in the bill that they say preserves the state’s ability to begin enforcing the law. pre-Roe law if the Supreme Court reverses that decision.