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'No one understands exactly what that law is': Planned Parenthood AZ navigates new abortion ruling

This week's decision by the Arizona Supreme Court upholding a territorial-era near total ban on abortion has led to questions about what the legal landscape will look like in the short term.

The 1864 law won't be enforceable for a little while. And Planned Parenthood, Arizona says it will continue offering abortions for now up to 15 weeks gestation, which is the standard set in the 2022 state law.

With The Show now to talk more about what the future may hold is Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: Dr. Gibson, good morning

DR. JILL GIBSON: Good morning.

BRODIE: So what's, what's the plan going forward? I mean, a couple of weeks, maybe two months until this ruling from the State Supreme Court is fully in effect. What is, what is your organization's plan?

GIBSON: Right. So we're still digesting the legalese and trying to sort through this opinion and the shock and dismay that we all feel. What I can reassure this community is that Planned Parenthood Arizona will continue to provide this essential health care service every day, every moment while it is still legally feasible. And despite whether or not we have 45, 60 or even 100 days. That's, that's never going to be enough. We always need to be able to provide abortion access in the state.

BRODIE: What have you heard from patients in the, even just a couple of days since this ruling came out?

GIBSON: I've been providing abortion services in our health center, both on Tuesday and Wednesday. And patients are coming in rightfully panicked, confused, overwhelmed and concerned. They're asking me if they need to make other arrangements to start to leave the state. Now, they're looking for alternate ways to obtain abortion pills. They're asking if they're gonna be able to make their follow up appointments after their abortion. So the patients are absolutely being caught again in the crossfires of politicians and legislatures who have absolutely no right to be interfering with a patient's decision to end their pregnancy. 

BRODIE: Well, and given sort of the uncertainty about what the next, you know, weeks and months are going to look like. What are you able to tell those patients?

GIBSON: So, I'm, I'm warning them that the, the Legislature and the politicians are not doing their job and they're playing politics, and all that I can really focus on at this point truly is just providing the care that I can provide on a day by day basis. And I'm, I'm reassuring them that today I'm providing their abortion and, and I'm also stressing the importance of, of understanding where they stand in this process, you know, eight out of 10 citizens of this electorate do not support an abortion ban, they support access to abortion. And so it's really time for us to galvanize everyone and make sure that the will of the people is known.

BRODIE: If and and when the 1864 law goes into effect, what does that mean for Planned Parenthood?

GIBSON: Planned Parenthood will always continue to keep our doors open. We offer many, many other services in addition to abortion, we're incredibly proud of our abortion service line and we'll never shy away from that. But we also offer incredibly important other sexual and reproductive health care services that are gonna become even more critical when there's a total abortion ban in place. So we plan to continue to expand, offering vasectomy services, expand, offering all modes of contraceptive and all modes of STI testing and treatment and preventative care. All the services that our community can, you know, will continue to need and especially in light of a total abortion ban. 

BRODIE: Have you had conversations or have there been conversations between providers and, and legal folks about like what actually it means for a law that says abortion can only take place to save the life of a mother? Like what, what legally that means and what would in theory be defensible in court versus what wouldn't be? 

GIBSON: Right. The the confusion that you're alluding to right there lies at the very heart of why laws and politicians absolutely have no place interfering in health care. The nuance of taking care of each individual patient cannot be captured in, in legalese, and laws that are written by people who have no medical training and no expertise in patient care simply can't be applied to how myself as a physician, as an obstetrician gynecologist, who has taken care of thousands of, of pregnant people needing abortion services simply can't be dictated by these laws.

BRODIE: Well, I mean, is there, does it mean, I guess if this law goes into effect or when this law goes into, into effect, is there a scenario under which Planned Parenthood of Arizona could continue offering abortion services if the life of the mother was in danger.

GIBSON: So certainly Planned Parenthood plans to follow the law and you know, the, the point that I want to make here is that no one understands exactly what that law is. These laws are, are crafted in a way to make it particularly confusing and arbitrary and, and difficult for anyone to interpret physicians, lawyers and, and certainly patients most of all. And so what I will tell you is that when these cases are coming up, rather than putting all of my energies and focus into caring for the patient, I will be on the phone with my legal team trying to decide what is permissible under this law. And that's absolutely egregious.

BRODIE: There's also, I think a sense it seemingly a sense of maybe confusion about what the future will hold, right. Because even just yesterday, there were efforts in the state Legislature to take a vote to repeal the 1864 law. There are questions about whether there could be more stays or injunctions on the 1864 law. What does all of that sort of uncertainty about what the immediate future may hold? Like, what does that mean for the, for your ability to plan and, and have providers know what they're going to be doing and have patients know what they're going to be doing.

GIBSON: Well, certainly, it's this very chaos and the chaos that we saw yesterday at the Capitol that's absolutely disgraceful. But what I can tell you is that as a physician, this is about real people's lives. And what I saw in my health center yesterday were people who are lining up to receive abortion services that are absolutely essential for their well being and their bodily autonomy. I have patients who are victims of sexual assault and rape who need abortions. I have patients who financially cannot support another pregnancy and are telling me that they will be homeless if they can't work. I have patients who are tethered to abusive partners who if they cannot get their abortion will continue to be in an abusive situation. These are real people's lives. This cannot be about politics.

BRODIE: OK, we'll have to leave it there. That is Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood Arizona. Dr. Gibson, thank you so much for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

GIBSON: Thank you.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record. 

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.