• Sun. Sep 24th, 2023


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Roe v. Wade Decision Prompts Closures and Confusion at Abortion Clinics

The Supreme Court’s decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion unleashed waves of confusion, panic and resignation for doctors and women across the country as they tried to understand a legal landscape that was changing by the hour.

Some clinics vowed to carry on providing abortions in states with limits or outright bans, only to reverse course midday and halt procedures over concerns about whether their actions were suddenly illegal.

Doctors and clinic owners were calling lawyers and looking for guidance from state attorneys general. Women showed up at clinics on Friday not knowing whether they would be turned away or receive treatment. Abortion providers scrambled to understand when state bans triggered by the Supreme Court’s ruling would take effect. In 30 days? Immediately?

“We’ve stopped,” said Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick, owner of Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix. There were 40 people lined up on Friday morning when the Supreme Court’s decision landed, sending the staff scrambling for answers about whether they were still allowed to perform abortions.

“We sent a bunch of people home, and they were hysterical,” Dr. Goodrick said.

Arizona’s Republican-controlled state government passed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks earlier this year — a law that is now set to go into effect in 90 days, according to Attorney General Mark Brnovich.

But Arizona is one of a handful of states, including Michigan and West Virginia, with a pre-Roe abortion ban still on the books.

Arizona’s law, which is more than 100 years old, was ruled unconstitutional after Roe v. Wade was handed down and has not been enforced in decades. It bans all abortions except to save the life of the patient and punishes abortion providers with two to five years in prison.

Amid the confusion on Friday, Arizona’s Republican-run State Senate issued a statement calling the state’s older abortion ban the law of the land, “effective immediately.”

On Friday afternoon, Planned Parenthood Arizona said it would stop providing abortion services because of the “state of Arizona’s complex abortion laws.” Other independent clinics around Phoenix said they were temporarily halting abortion services until they had a clearer idea of whether — and when — abortion was illegal in Arizona.

In West Virginia, which also has a century-old law criminalizing abortion, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said he would soon “be providing a legal opinion to the Legislature about how it should proceed to save as many babies’ lives as humanly and legally possible.”

That was enough to halt abortions at the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the only clinic in the state that performs abortions.

On Friday morning, the clinic announced in a statement that it would continue to provide birth control, cancer screening and pregnancy and parenting support. But, Katie Quinonez, the center’s executive director, said, “Due to the inaction of our lawmakers to repeal the crime of abortion in our state code, it is impossible for our clinic to provide abortion.”

In the run-up to the Supreme Court’s decision, abortion providers struggled to understand which state bans would apply and at what stage of pregnancy. Some abortion providers did not know whether local prosecutors and state officials would enforce different laws or ignore them altogether.

An 1849 ban on abortion quickly took effect in Wisconsin, but the district attorney in Dane County, which includes the liberal college town of Madison, indicated he would not prosecute cases under what he called an “archaic” law.

“If the voters want a district attorney who prosecutes women for seeking an abortion or licensed providers who are acting in the best interest of their patients, they will need to elect someone else,” the district attorney, Ismael Ozanne, said in a statement.

In Phoenix, as calls poured in from patients, Dr. Goodrick huddled with her staff on Friday to talk through the court’s ruling, and the uncertain days ahead.

“This is life-altering for many, many women and families,” she said. “It’s going to be devastating.”