People attend a “Fight4Her” pro-choice rally in front of the White House at Lafayette Square on March 29, 2019 in Washington, DC. Photo by Astrid Riecken | Getty Images
Just days before the 2022 midterm elections, Arizona doctors called on voters to elect pro-choice candidates, warning that their ability to care for women across the Grand Canyon state is at risk.
The Committee to Protect Health Care, a national advocacy group and political action committee made up of thousands of doctors, held a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon to highlight the concerns of health care providers in the state. Arizona courts are currently grappling with a near-total abortion ban from 1864 which carries with it a mandatory 2- to 5-year prison sentence for doctors who perform the procedure when the patient’s life isn’t in danger.
“Arizona deserves leaders who will improve access to affordable quality health care, not those who put up barriers to care,” said Dr. Susan Hughes, a retired family practice physician.
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Elected officials have the power to restrict access, she said, as demonstrated by Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who initiated the legal action that revived the Civil War-era ban. Voting in pro-choice candidates at the state and federal levels would help safeguard abortion access, she added.
“Arizona’s next state lawmakers and governor could work to repeal the state’s current bans and restore fundamental abortion care,” Hughes said. “Arizona’s U.S. senator will also have a hand in determining the future of health care as some in Congress push for a national abortion ban.”
Along with the 1864 law, which is paused while legal challenges continue, is a 15-week ban that became law in September. Democrats, if awarded a legislative majority and the governor’s seat, have signaled a willingness to strike down both laws, while Republican candidates for office have moved in the direction of keeping current restrictions in place and enacting bans at the federal level.
Hughes added that, as the first election after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it’s a prime opportunity for voters to signal their disapproval with the decision.
If voters fail to elect candidates who will secure access to abortion, Hughes said she worries the outcome for women will be bleak, mirroring that of states like Texas, which have already shown health consequences when doctors hesitate to provide care for fear of criminalization.
“Serious complications are on the rise because doctors are afraid,” she said. “We don’t want this to happen to our patients.”
Abortion is a necessary medical procedure, and studies have widely proven that blocking women’s access to the procedure is followed by detrimental health outcomes, said Dr. Valerie Sorkin-Wells, an OB/GYN who practiced in the Valley for decades until retiring last year. She cited the Turnaway Study as evidence, which looked at 30 abortion clinics and 1,000 women over a 10 year period and found that women who were denied an abortion were more likely to experience worse financial and health effects.
Sorkin-Wells herself has witnessed how abortion access can impact women’s lives.
“I’ve seen firsthand how abortion access has saved women’s lives,” she said. “I’ve seen firsthand how women forced to remain pregnant, despite significant health risks, suffered. These outcomes are not uncommon and they are backed up by research.”
In light of that research and new studies which indicate that maternal mortality rate would increase by 24% if bans are implemented, Sorkin-Wells said input from politicians on decisions about patient health is unwelcome.
“Doctors don’t want politicians making decisions for our patients or for us,” she said.
Dr. Ricardo Correa, a Phoenix-based endocrinologist and internal medicine physician who also serves as the medical director of a clinic that serves underserved populations like undocumented immigrants, added that abortion restrictions will invariably hurt those who need expanded health care access the most. Rural and minority women, already facing poor access due to distance, income level or discrimination, will suffer more than women who are able to travel out of state.
Abortion, Correa said, is part of a complete spectrum of care doctors offer and shortening that spectrum is detrimental for women. The upcoming midterms will decide if women receive the care they deserve or if doctors in Arizona will see their hands tied when faced with dangerous medical situations.
“This election, voters will decide whether doctors can continue to do our jobs or whether we will be put behind bars for performing medically necessary procedures,” Correa said. “In less than a week, voters get to decide whether they want doctors to stand by while our patients bleed or suffer organ failure while lawyers decide what’s close enough to death before we can save her life.”
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