Updated June 30, 2022.

Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Arizona’s Republican attorney general took to Twitter to say he will enforce an 1864 abortion law, a near-total ban on abortions passed before women had the right to vote. Before Arizona was officially a state.

After Roe was overturned 6-3, Arizona elected officials had the power to decide which conflicting state laws banning abortions would take effect and to what degree abortion providers would be criminalized. Attorney General Mark Brnovich chose the most restrictive of two laws to supersede a measure — passed earlier this year with broad Republican support — that would have barred abortions after 15 weeks.

The 1864 law that Brnovich opted for makes most abortions illegal for women and pregnant people for most reasons, unless it is “necessary” to save the life of the mother. And breaking that law comes with a sentence of 2-5 years in prison. This law hasn’t been enforced since an injunction related to the Roe decision in 1973. 

MORE TO READ >> ‘I’m scared for my daughters’: Arizona women on both sides of abortion debate left in the dark about their health rights amid legal chaos

The other law, Senate Bill 1164, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March, would have made abortions illegal after 15 weeks of gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. About 7%, or 896, abortions in Arizona in 2020 were performed at 15 weeks of gestation or beyond, according to the state Department of Health Services. Most abortions were done in earlier weeks of pregnancy and would have been allowed under this law.

Resources for Arizonans seeking an abortion

What do you need to know about the repercussions of the Supreme Court decision for you and your community? Send us a note at info@azluminaria.org

An Arizona Public Opinion Pulse (AZPOP) survey by OH Predictive Insights (OHPI), conducted this May with 938 respondents, found that 87% of registered Arizonan voters believe that abortion should be legal in some way. That percentage is identical to a similar survey conducted last September. 

The survey also asked if political candidates’ stance on abortion would factor into how respondents would vote in November’s mid-term elections, when Arizonans will select a governor, attorney general, and senator, among a long slate of officials. More than a third of respondents said a candidate’s stance on abortion would be very impactful on their vote. Among registered Democrats, nearly half said it would be very impactful.

Brnovich may have to defend the choice in court because Ducey had signed the conflicting law with the 15-week ban, and abortion rights and health care proponents want legal clarifications to clear up years of shifts in laws related to abortion. Ducey hasn’t yet issued an official statement about Brnovich’s choice.

Arizona Luminaria reached out to Ducey’s office for clarification for the public about which law is currently in effect for women’s health and human rights, as well as asking for a statement about contradictory messages from the governor and the attorney general. A spokesman for Ducey referred Arizona Luminaria to an interview the governor had Thursday on AM radio in which his comments offered little clarity.

 “The attorney general has issued his opinion. He’s the chief legal advisor for the state of Arizona,” Ducey said on radio talk show the Tipping Point. “The question that I answered was in reference to the law that I signed in this legislative session that was due to go into effect 90 days after the end of the session. It seems that there is some challenge to what’s happened here and likely it will have to be settled in the courts.”

“We will see the attorney general in court to make sure that we are doing all that we can so that our patients can continue to access essential abortion care,” Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said Thursday. Fonteno said her organization has been inundated with people who need health-care answers and support after the Supreme Court’s ruling when the agency halted all abortions via medication and surgery.

“The news that came out yesterday was completely infuriating and devastating,” Fonteno said. “After five days of complete silence on what people’s rights are in Arizona to send a tweet to say that the attorney general planned to revive century old abortion bans was just really cruel at this moment, especially considering that we have less than 90 days until a new abortion ban, a 15-week ban, would take effect.”

Fonteno said that women have been reaching out to the organization via phone calls, social media and walk-ins because they don’t know their health rights or the laws for abortion access in Arizona. Requests for birth control have “skyrocketed,” she said.

“I think the most important thing to know is that Planned Parenthood Arizona is still open, we’re still here to provide care to our communities,” she said. “We have been focused on still providing people with options counseling and providing them with information about how to access abortion care.”

Josselyn Berry is a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party and a political activist, but clarified that she spoke with Arizona Luminaria Thursday to share “a personal experience as someone who has gotten an abortion in Arizona.”

“In my early 20s I had an abortion,” she said. “I was in college, I was dating someone at the time and I found out I was pregnant. Thankfully, I had the option to go to Planned Parenthood. It wasn’t a difficult choice for me. I wasn’t anxious over it. I was really lucky that I was able to make that choice.”

Berry said she didn’t start sharing her abortion story until a couple years ago.

“I am really glad that I did because after I did so, I did have a lot of people come up to me and tell me how meaningful and important it was to hear me share my experience,” she said. “They told me it helped them be more open about their abortions.”

Berry said that the day Roe fell was “a punch to the gut and has been very difficult to process. Frankly, I’m still processing it.”

She’d hoped that the 15-week ban would offer a glimmer of hope in a dark time for women’s health and human rights.

“It feels so medieval to think that in 2022, we as a modern society, a modern country that has had so many advancements in our culture and technology and our healthcare, that because of politics and because of the need to want to control women and women’s bodies we’re going back to this law from the 1800s that shouldn’t have any bearing on the reality of today,” she said.

Berry takes a deep breath and pauses before sharing what she would say to a woman in Arizona who needs an abortion right now.

“I’m imagining that I’m talking to myself all those years ago. If I was going through this again and not having the access,” she said. “I think I would tell her please don’t despair, please don’t lose hope, there are still abortion funds in Arizona. There are still resources and people for you to talk to and go to, to help you find an option, because government should not be forcing you to give birth when you don’t want to. You should have the choice that’s best for yourself.”

How closely the 1864 law will be enforced will be up to county attorneys and prosecutors, and what cases will be allowed as “necessary” to save the life of a mother is a new question that will work its way through the legal system. Tucson’s city council passed a resolution earlier in June to prevent abortion-related arrests.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported there were 13,273 abortions in Arizona in 2020. More than 50% of people who had an abortion in the state were either Latina or Black women. About half of the abortion procedures were by surgery and half by medication.

An Arizona law passed in 2021 made it illegal to deliver abortion-inducing medication by courier, delivery or mail.

Brnovich, whose term ends in January, is running for U.S. Senate. See the candidates for Arizona Attorney General and a video of a May debate here. Primary Election Day is August 2. 

A group gathering signatures for an Arizona constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to an abortion in addition to other reproductive health care is in its final push. 

The group will need 356,467 signatures by Thursday, July 7 to get on the ballot in November.

Amy Fitch-Heacock, a steering committee member with Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom says the group won’t have an accurate estimate of the signatures until notarization begins over the weekend and into the July 4 holiday because there are so many outstanding petitions. 

Fitch-Heacock says every day they are signing out an average of 200 petitions to people who want to participate in some way.

“I’ve never seen anything like it with any initiative before,” Fitch-Heacock says.

Protests and cancellations

Just hours after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision overturning Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 17 last week, Arizonans awaiting treatment at abortion clinics in Phoenix and Tucson had their appointments abruptly canceled.

“The unfortunate reality is our clinics have chosen to pause services because the laws in Arizona are very unclear,” Eloisa Lopez, executive director of Pro-Choice Arizona and the Abortion Fund of Arizona, said last week.

That night, protesters gathered in downtown Tucson, Phoenix and across America.

A half an hour into the Tucson rally in front of the federal courthouse — with dark summer clouds seemingly on fire as the evening deepened — the crowd began pushing into the street.

Hesitant at first, a few people dropped off the curb and made their way into the street. Then, within a couple of minutes, traffic was blocked and the thousand-or-so protesters, holding a diverse array of signs and sporting stickers and petition clipboards and backpacks, some of them pushing bikes or wheelchairs, took over both directions of Congress Street and began marching west. 

Their signs read:

“Ruth Sent Us”

“Abort the Patriarchy”

“Forced Birth Control in a Country with No Universal Healthcare”

“Regulate Guns, Not My Vagina”

Cari, left and Erin, right, described the decision to overturn Roe as disheartening, but also hoped it would push people towards political action. Credit: John Washington

Cari and Erin, two friends, were standing in the thick of the crowd and bouncing on their toes to the chant of: “Whose Streets? Our Streets!” Erin said she came out to protest “to find a community, a group of people who can share in pain.”

She said it was important to know you’re not suffering alone.

“You see different types of people when you get out. We can share in pain, hurt, and anger. Today we have a right to be angry,” she said.

Both women — neither of whom wanted to share their last names in a historic time when no one knows the legal repercussions for people seeking or advocating for abortion rights — expressed some hope that the decision would be another spark toward political action.

“This is an election year, and there’s a shit-ton we have to do,” Erin said. 

With Roe v. Wade stripped of its power, it’s now up to legislators, the majority of whom are male, in states to enact whatever abortion bans they please. 

Protestors spilled onto Congress Street in Tucson on Friday, June 24 after the decision came down in the morning. Video by Michael McKisson for AZ Luminaria

But the current state of Arizona law, according to Emery, a young woman who attended the rally with her dog, remains “wishy-washy.”

Emery said that abortion rights have always been vital to her. She is a survivor of sexual assault.

“It’s so important to let people choose. We can’t choose for them,” she said.

Asked what she wants to come from the rally, she responded, “I hope we can show people that we’re not going to lie back and take this.”

As the crowd continued marching west, the energy rising to a crescendo, the sky darkened and people began shouting, “My body! My choice!”

One young man, who declined to offer his name, said the spirit of the crowd showed that “the decision made today is not representative of American people.”

The majority of Americans support abortion rights, with 55% now identifying as “pro-choice,” according to a June Gallup poll. That’s the highest percentage since 1995 when it was 56%.

A few women in the crowd wore hangers around their necks, a symbol of times in U.S. history when women lacked abortion rights and risked their lives to take care of themselves.

By the time the marchers were heading up the offramp of I-10, attempting to take over the highway, a small phalanx of police officers had blocked their way. Some of the officers wore gas masks, some holding “non-lethal” weapons.

Police and protesters faced off, occasionally yelling at each other. The standoff lasted about 15 minutes, and folks started peeling away or turning around. But the rally didn’t completely fizzle, and pro-abortion rights supporters pushed their way back east toward downtown.

In Phoenix, protesters and attorneys, who have questioned officers’ and troopers’ civil rights violations, decried tactics at the Arizona State Capitol that included deploying flashbang devices and tear gas on people.

That protest included a smaller number of anti-abortion activists.

The Vatican’s Academy for Life celebrated the decision, urging other countries to consider the significance of the shift. Arizonans have witnessed a Catholic bishop excommunicate a nun and revoke church affiliation in 2010 for a hospital that allowed an abortion to save a woman’s life. Doctors said the 27-year-old mother of four was experiencing pulmonary hypertension and would likely die, along with her child, of heart failure if her pregnancy was not terminated. She was 11 weeks pregnant.

Statements in support of the court’s ruling included relief shared by the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America group: “After almost 50 years, in an historic victory for human rights, the Supreme Court has finally overturned the wrongly-decided and dated Roe decision…”

Abortion access in other states and Mexico

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” a volunteer with Tucson Abortion Support Collective told Arizona Luminaria on the day of the Supreme Court decision. The volunteer wanted to remain anonymous due to potential legal repercussions. “We’re going to keep on giving advice to people who need it, but we don’t know if giving advice is legal.”

After the Supreme Court decision, and Arizona clinics’ suspension of services, the only remaining option for Arizonans seeking abortions seems to be crossing state lines or international borders. Clinics in both New Mexico and California remain open, though wait times are unclear, and both cost and accessibility likely remain prohibitive for many. Nevada and Colorado may also be options, said Lopez, the Pro-Choice Arizona executive director.

New Mexico abortion providers include: 

National and local hotlines can also help orient women seeking care. Sarah Tarver-Wahlquist, a member of the Tucson Abortion Support Collective, told Cronkite News they were considering fundraising and developing transportation networks to help people access treatment in neighboring states.

The Mexican state of Sonora, where many Arizonans go for various types of medical care, especially dental, doesn’t currently offer much hope. While Sonora recently had some of the most punitive anti-abortion laws on the books in Mexico, a Mexican Supreme Court ruling from last September decriminalized abortions. Without legislative action in Sonora, however, abortion remains a rarity.

Earlier this month, legislators in Baja California, meanwhile, voted to make abortion legal for women up to 12-weeks pregnant. In cases of rape, health risks to the mother, or fetal deformities, there is no week limit.

The narrow time restriction and passport requirement, however, may not make traveling to Baja a viable option for some. 

“It’s an option if they have a passport to get across borders,” Lopez said. “So now we’re moving into this future that if you have the resources, then you can get care.”

Mexicali’s abortion clinic Profem is about a 90-minute drive from Yuma, about 4 hours from Phoenix and Tucson.

Luisa Garcia, director of Profem, told Arizona Luminaria that while they have only been offering services for the past seven months, there’s been a recent sharp uptick in women from the United States seeking health care. Profem also has clinics in Tijuana and Mexico City.

Asked if Profem was prepared for another huge increase of women crossing the border to seek abortions, Garcia said, “We will do what we can. We are committed to attending to all women who come to our door.”

That effort will be burdensome and require an extensive network of community and financial resources.

The court’s ruling is a “major step back in the recognition of women’s rights as human rights,” said Karen Musalo, Director of the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of Law.

Religious and political leaders react

Religious movements like the Vatican Academy for Life are pushing for international limitations. “The fact that a large country with a long democratic tradition has changed its position on this issue also challenges the whole world,” the academy said in a statement.

Musalo argued the ruling “is representative of a trend, which calls itself conservative, but is anything but, that attempts to radically limit long-recognized fundamental human rights. The decision will have devastating consequences for women across the country, with its impact falling most heavily on Black and Brown women, and those without the resources to obtain the medical care they need.”

It remains to be seen whether the legal action by the highest court in the U.S. will signal a green light across the globe to dehumanize women and their rights.

“As someone who has worked to expand protection for women refugees fleeing gender harms,” Musalo said, “I can’t help but see how the Supreme Court’s decision will have profound impacts beyond our borders, legitimizing the denial of women’s rights in countries around the world, and refusing them protection when they come to the U.S.”

The mayors of Tucson and Phoenix took to Twitter to express disappointment in the decision and support for women seeking reproductive health care. Arizona’s governor praised the court’s ruling allowing state officials to limit pregnant people’s right to abortion.

Dianna Náñez and Irene McKisson contributed reporting and editing to this story

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John Washington is an investigative journalist based in Tucson with a focus on immigration and borders, as well as criminal justice and literature. His first book, "The Dispossessed: A Story of Asylum...

Becky Pallack is the Operations Executive at Arizona Luminaria. She's been a journalist in Arizona since 1999.