Chaos and confusion ensue at abortion clinics after Arizona court rules 1864 ban is enforceab

Abortion providers in Arizona faced chaos and confusion after the state’s highest court on Tuesday ruled that a 160-year-old abortion ban is enforceable, throwing abortion access into question.

Dr. DeShawn Taylor, founder and president of the Phoenix-based Desert Star Institute for Family Planning, said she was initially unsure how quickly the change could go into effect, so she rushed her staff to call seven patients with appointments on Tuesday to ask them to come in earlier in the day.

“We just concentrated on getting patients seen,” Taylor said, adding, “We needed to make sure that we got those abortions done.”

The bombshell ruling says that a law banning all abortions except to save a woman’s life, which was passed in 1864 before Arizona became a state, can be enforced given that a constitutional right to abortion is no longer guaranteed in the U.S. However, the court put its decision on hold for 14 days so a lower court can consider “additional constitutional challenges” that haven’t been cleared up.

Even after that, Planned Parenthood Arizona said, the ban can’t take effect until 45 days after the state Supreme Court issues its final ruling, because of a 2022 court decision in a separate case.

Health care providers in Arizona said they spent much of the day on Tuesday answering questions from patients and trying to assuage fears that their abortion appointments would be canceled.

At the Planned Parenthood clinic in Tempe, Dr. Jill Gibson, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said uncertainty about when the ruling would go into effect triggered anxiety among patients.

“That chaos and confusion that we’re seeing is what I’m having to explain to patients,” she said Tuesday. “Patients are coming and they are already asking, because they’ve seen the news, if their appointment would be upheld today.”

Angela Florez, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, told reporters on Tuesday that the organization’s clinics in the state would continue providing abortion services “for a very short period of time.” Then it will work with neighboring states, including California, to help people cross state lines if needed to obtain an abortion, she said.

“There really is no way to sugarcoat it. Today is a dark day for Arizona,” Florez said.

The Los Angeles County public health department said in a statement that it is committed to working with health providers, advocates and businesses to welcome people seeking abortions who cannot obtain them in their home state.

Taylor said the frantic pace of the day felt like “deja vu,” given its similarity to the day in 2022 when then-Gov. Doug Ducey signed a law limiting abortions in the state to 15 weeks’ gestation. Before that, Taylor’s clinic had been performing abortions through the second trimester.

The 2022 law prompted Taylor to change her clinic’s scheduling system to ensure a short turnaround between consultations and abortions.

Taylor added that the looming ban jeopardizes the future of her small clinic.

“We are a mom and pop clinic — there is a relationship and a reverence that is mutual” between staff and patients, she said. “We are located in a place that is very diverse, low income and medically underserved. They depend on us.”

Dr. Ronald Yunis, of the Acacia Women’s Center in Phoenix, said his clinic plans to continue performing abortions “until the attorneys say it can’t be done.”

“We have primarily Spanish-speaking patients. They are going to be harmed massively,” he said. “It’s a war on the most vulnerable.”

Many questions remain about the future of abortion access in Arizona.

Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, called on the state’s GOP-controlled Legislature to repeal the 1864 law.

“We know for the next 45 days that the 15-week ban that Arizona has is in place, but after that, without further action from the court, this total ban will be the law of Arizona,” Hobbs told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on Tuesday. “I hope the Legislature does the right thing and does what I’ve called on them to do and repeals this ban, because we’re already seeing the level of confusion and chaos this is causing.”

Democrats in the Arizona House attempted to introduce a repeal of the 1864 ban on Wednesday but were stymied by Republicans.

Meanwhile, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat, said Tuesday that no woman or doctor would be prosecuted for an abortion as long as she remains in office.

“Though I have said I will not prosecute anyone under this draconian law, we obviously know that it’s going to have a chilling effect” on abortion access, Mayes told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Tuesday.

Hobbs signed an executive order last year conferring authority over abortion-related prosecutions to the state attorney general’s office.

A coalition of reproductive rights organizations in Arizona said this month that it had gathered enough petition signatures to put an abortion-related constitutional amendment on the November ballot. That means voters are likely to decide whether to establish abortion as a fundamental right in Arizona until fetal viability — which would effectively reverse the 1864 ban.

“We’ve already collected well over 500,000 signatures, and we don’t plan to slow down one bit because Arizonans across the political spectrum believe in reproductive freedom,” Chris Love, a spokesperson for the group, called Arizona for Abortion Access, said Tuesday at a news conference. “We believe patients, in consultation with our medical providers and families, have the right to control our own health care. And we are eager to prove it once and for all at the ballot box in November.”

However, opponents of abortion rights lauded the state Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We celebrate this enormous victory for unborn children and their mothers. Reinstating Arizona’s pro-life law will protect more than 11,000 babies annually at all stages of pregnancy while providing an exception for the life of the mother,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, a nonprofit that seeks to end abortion in the U.S., said in a statement.

However, some prominent Arizona Republicans issued statements opposing the ruling and former President Donald Trump said the Arizona court had gone too far.

Amid the confusion, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell sought to clarify that under Arizona law, women who get an abortion won’t be prosecuted. The state Supreme Court ruling “does not change that,” she said in a statement.

Both Arizona’s current 15-week abortion policy and the 1864 law still on the books pertain to people who administer or provide abortions, not to patients undergoing a procedure.