Arizona clinic has workaround for abortion pill ban

PHOENIX — A Phoenix abortion clinic has found a way for patients who can terminate their pregnancy on the pill to get the drug quickly without violating a revived Arizona law that bans most abortions.

Under the agreement, which began Monday, patients in Arizona will have an ultrasound, receive a prescription through a telemedicine appointment with a California doctor, and then have it shipped to a post office in a California border town for pickup, all free of charge.

Though it’s not as easy as before, an Arizona judge ruled that a statehood law criminalizing nearly all abortions could be enforced nearly two weeks ago, but the process saves an overnight trip to a major California city with an abortion clinic. And it’s more accessible than the previous workaround Camelback Family Planning used in Phoenix, which consisted of having a doctor in Sweden prescribe the pills and a pharmacy in India shipping them to Arizona. This can take up to three weeks.

Ashleigh Feiring, a nurse at the clinic, said the cost of the pills would be covered by the Abortion Fund of Arizona, which helps women fund out-of-state access to abortions. Women can use an abortion pill up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Pills and surgical abortions were legal until about 24 weeks, when the US Supreme Court ruled in June Roe v. Wade and allowed states to ban all abortions.

The Food and Drug Administration earlier this year permanently lifted rules requiring in-person consultations with a provider before women can have a medical abortion, allowing women to schedule a telemedicine appointment and receive the pills in the mail.

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But Arizona has a law that prohibits the pills from being shipped, as well as a law that prohibits all abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger. This has led to clinics making arrangements with clinics in New Mexico and California to treat patients who wanted access to the abortion pill, as well as patients older than 12 weeks who need a surgical abortion.

At Camelback Family Planning, Feiring said they are not concerned about doing ultrasounds and follow-up for those using the pill to have an abortion.

“We don’t offer abortions,” Feiring said. “We’re just giving people information.”

Those who had the pills shipped to any of the three California cities along the Arizona border would pick them up at the post office and take the first drug there before returning home and taking the second drug. They would return to the clinic for a follow-up visit in about a week.

Cathi Herrod, president of the social-conservative organization Center for Arizona Policy and architect of many of Arizona’s tough abortion restrictions, slammed the proposal.

“The abortion pill plan shows an amazing disregard for the health and well-being of the mother,” Herrod said.

Despite FDA approval, Herrod argues that abortion pills have significant consequences, and women need in-person evaluation and follow-up.

“I’m not surprised that the abortion industry cares more about its bottom line and selling pills than it does about serving women,” she said.

Arizona is among several Republican-led states that have banned the delivery of abortion pills through the mail. It’s one of 14 states with near-total abortion bans that the Supreme Court allowed when it overthrew Roe.

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About 13,000 women in Arizona had an abortion last year, about half using a pill. Most occurred before the 15th week of pregnancy.

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