Looking for telehealth abortion care in AZ? The state says ‘No.’

Unidentifiable protestor holding an abortion rights sign during the Women's March on Washington January 21, 2017 in Tucson, AZ, USA. (Photo by Shutterstock)

By Robert Gundran

March 29, 2024

“There won’t be any change under this Legislature.”

ARIZONA—“There’s fewer and fewer providers in rural Arizona,” said Bré Thomas. “And the bulk of the abortion care that’s provided in Arizona is in Maricopa County.”

Thomas is the CEO of Affirm, a non-profit that offers reproductive health and education services to Arizonans. She noted that the problem of having a reproductive health care desert across most of Arizona is compounded by a statewide ban on doctors using telehealth to provide abortion services.

“It’s an undue burden on people that are further away from where the care is,” Thomas said. “Some people may have to go to another state, and other people are looking at options like Mexico, where abortion is legal.”

Abortion in Arizona is still legal up to 15 weeks of pregnancy—but not via telehealth or an online visit. Across the nation, about 14,000 abortions are done online every month, and major research findings show that the practice is just as safe and effective as in-person abortion. The World Health Organization has additionally recommended that individuals can self-manage their abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

“So many folks do not understand the hurdles that are in place until you actually have personal experience with it,” said Arizona resident Jasmine Viehe, in a 2023 interview with the Copper Courier. In 2016, Viehe and her two children moved to Flagstaff from Arizona—not long after, Viehe had an unexpected pregnancy, and struggled to find nearby abortion care. “I felt very alone… It created so many burdens and barriers.”

Medication abortion makes up 63% of abortions nationwide, and despite 14 states banning abortions since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, the number of abortions has risen 10%.

“Like I said, Bayer Company invented aspirin. Put it between your knees,” said Republican state senator Sonny Borelli —suggesting that women could avoid getting pregnant if they held an aspirin between their knees to keep their legs shut—in response to a question about whether he would oppose future efforts to limit access to reproductive care.

Borelli represents the sentiment in Arizona’s Republican-held state House and state Senate, where the fight over repro rights is dominated by a conservative agenda.

“There won’t be a change under this legislature,” said Thomas. “They wouldn’t even hear the contraceptive bill. If they’re unwilling to talk about contraception, they’re not going to talk about abortion care either.”

All 30 seats in the Arizona state Senate are up for election in November. There is currently a slim Republican majority (16-14). Similarly, all 60 seats in the Arizona state House are up for election this year, also with a current Republican majority (31-29). Find out if you’re registered to vote here.

What to do if you need online abortion medication

While Arizona state law prohibits health care providers from using telehealth services to provide abortion care, Arizonans can still access abortion medication online. That’s thanks to shield laws that protect physicians who prescribe the pills in a handful of states without extreme abortion bans. Those pills can legally be sent by mail through these services:

AidAccess.org

AbuzzHealth.com

WomenOnWeb.org

Cambridge Reproductive Health Consultants

What’s next for Arizona’s abortion care?

Arizona Democrats are campaigning on reproductive rights ahead of the 2024 election, and the topic has been in the limelight since the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade and made it legal for individual states to place as many restrictions on abortion as state governments decide.

Here in Arizona, our Supreme Court is currently deciding on whether or not to return the state to a pre-statehood total ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother.

 

READ MORE: Arizona Supreme Court to hear arguments on 1864 abortion ban. 

 

If the Court, which is entirely made up of justices appointed by Republican governors, were to return to the law from the 1800s, it would likely make abortion medication illegal as well.

“It’s the most commonly used method of abortion in the United States,” Thomas said. “It’s the most heavily scrutinized and it is clearly safe.”

Whatever the court decides, Arizona voters may yet have a chance to legalize abortion rights themselves—by using a ballot initiative to amend our state constitution.

Arizona for Abortion Access, a coalition of groups that advocate for reproductive rights, is leading a signature-gathering process to get abortion on the ballot in November.

Such a move would prohibit the state from penalizing or charging people for performing or receiving abortions in medical emergencies.

It would also amend the constitution to prevent anyone in the state from denying, restricting, or interfering with abortion unless a health care provider determined that the fetus had a “significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with

Such ballot measures have already passed in six states since Roe was overturned—California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Vermont, and Ohio. Indeed, they’ve passed in every state that’s tried so far.

In 2024, 13 more will attempt to do the same—Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.

Thomas is confident that Arizonans will move the measure forward in November.

“After [the ballot measure passes] comes some additional work,” she said.

Until then, getting abortion medication through telehealth will remain a gray area in Arizona, and people outside of Phoenix and Tucson will continue to jump through additional hoops to get the reproductive health care they need.

Author

  • Robert Gundran

    Robert Gundran grew up in the Southwest, spending equal time in the Valley and Southern California throughout his life. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in 2018 and wrote for The Arizona Republic and The Orange County Register.

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