What is considered “life-saving” to now legally perform an abortion in Arizona?

Many providers have stopped performing abortions altogether, but there’s confusion over when a pregnancy becomes life-saving and how the law will be enforced.
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 4:48 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - In Arizona, the attorney general says the territorial law, which bans abortion unless medically necessary to save a mother’s life, is back in effect. As a result, many providers here have stopped performing abortions altogether, but there’s confusion over when a pregnancy becomes life-saving and how the law will be enforced.

What is considered life-saving to now perform a legal abortion in Arizona? That’s what many doctors are trying to figure out. However, Valley OBGYN Greg Marchand said they’re very rare.

“Despite the fact that I’ve been involved with about 10,000 pregnancies, I’ve really only seen two cases in my career where it was medically necessary or medically indicated to save the mother’s life,’ Dr. Marchand said.

He’s performed two that were due to underlying diseases and conditions that affected the mother. Dr. Marchand said primarily his patients ask about abortions for reasons of birth defects or major fetal issues. But now, with the attorney general announcing the territorial ban is back in effect, those won’t be an option in Arizona.

“If that is the case, I’ll be instructing any patients that they’re going to have to make the trek over to California for any termination services,” Dr. Marchand said.

Parris Wallace admits it was an incredibly difficult decision, but the difference is she says it was hers to make.

Arizona’s Family asked Valley hospitals what they’re telling their doctors right now. While the HealthAlliance representing the hospitals said they couldn’t provide comment, Arizona’s Family obtained two internal letters from a source that went out to providers within HonorHealth and Banner Health hospitals.

While HonorHealth said they’re still working on guidance and clarity, Banner Health’s was more detailed. It went out on June 27th and started off by saying they believed the territorial law was back into effect after the overturning of Roe, which the attorney general declared this week.

The Banner Health letter gave specific advice to providers that included:

  • If the fetus is still alive, providers may not perform an abortion even though the fetus is not expected to survive for long inside or outside the womb.
  • In case of fetal death, a provider is permitted to perform a medical procedure to remove the fetus from the mother’s body. We believe this would not be “procuring a miscarriage” because the fetus is not alive.
  • If the mother has an ectopic pregnancy, a provider is permitted to perform an abortion because it is necessary to save the life of the mother.

“I’m very skeptical that a law from 1865 that says you get 2 years in prison for doing an abortion that was legal last month would ever be prosecuted by a prosecutor,” said Dr. Marchand.

Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell told Arizona’s Family this week she would not prosecute abortions due to rape or incest but would not clarify if she would prosecute other abortions.

As for enforcement of the law, the state health department said they aren’t an enforcement agency and pointed us to the Arizona Medical Board. The board’s executive director told Arizona’s Family they only investigate complaints and base their decisions on evidence.