Pima Supes declares abortion and reproductive health a ‘basic right’

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Bennito L. Kelty


Pima County will advocate for safe and legal abortion and access to reproductive health care after the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to declare such services a “basic right” for women and families after The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Abortion is health care,” said board chair Sharon Bronson. “This resolution positively affirms that fact and states that our Health Department will continue to assist Pima County families with their reproductive health and family planning needs.”

The US Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to eliminate the constitutional right to abortion. The June 24 decision overturned Roe v. Wade, which had been in effect for almost 50 years.

The Board of Supervisors responded to the controversial ruling on Tuesday, its first meeting since the decision was published, voting 4-1 to declare its “support for access to reproductive health careincluding legal safe abortion services.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision ends this basic right of safe access to adequate health care for far too many women and families in this country,” the statement said. “Access to legal and safe abortion, and to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health in general, are essential to protect and support public health.”

The only dissenting vote came from Supervisor Steve Christy, the only Republican on the board, who did not speak on his vote and attended the meeting virtually.

Supervisor Adelita Grijalva, whose district is primarily in the Tucson metro area, said banning abortion puts women’s health at risk.

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“Criminalizing abortion unnecessarily endangers the lives of women and menstruators,” he told the meeting. “Make no mistakes. Denying someone the option to terminate their pregnancy safely is not about saving a possible life. It is a form of oppression.”

“It is sad that we live in a country where my daughter has fewer rights and freedoms than her mother and grandmother,” Grijalva said.

Supervisors Rex Scott and Matt Heinz expressed their support for the Grijalva statement and the statement in support of abortions and family planning services.

The county should expand its reproductive health services, said Supervisor Heinz, a doctor who works at a local hospital, offering advice through telehealth programs, including advice on emergency contraception.

Bronson put the statement on the agenda.

“While state law prohibits the county from providing comprehensive reproductive health services, such as abortion, we are not prevented from providing other services or accurate information about sexual and reproductive health,” he said in a news release after the vote.

The declaration assigned several tasks to County Manager Jan Lesher, in addition to advocating for reproductive rights, requiring county staff to “ensure that a wide range of legal reproductive health services” are available through the Department of Health.

Publicly funded family planning services in Arizona can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and abortion by 27 percent, according to the Arizona Family Health Partnership, a nonprofit organization. Public funding of such services also reduces the teen pregnancy rate by 22 percent.

Pima County clinics have reproductive health services for women, men, and teens, and offer birth control and emergency contraceptive pills.

Women can go to the Theresa Lee Public Health Center or the North Clinic for birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), depo provera (DEPO) injections, implants, condoms, and ring and bike bills.

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The county does not deny service to anyone for inability to pay, but fees are set on a sliding scale based on income. The county lists its services and hours of operation online.

The two county clinics listed are the only ones that provide family planning services. However, emergency contraceptive pills, also known as “the morning after pill,” are also available at the county’s mobile clinics and at the East Clinic, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s medical director.

The pill can “greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy” if taken within 72 to 120 hours after sex, according to the county. No prescription is needed for emergency contraceptive pills.

Other family planning and reproductive health services offered by the county include:

  • Family planning, counseling and education.
  • Pregnancy tests and counseling
  • Detection and treatment of sexually transmitted infections
  • Breast exams: If abnormalities are found, they are referred to the Well Woman HealthCheck program
  • Exams: Pelvic and/or Pap tests as needed.
  • Abnormal Pap Smear Treatment: The county makes referrals to your colposcopy clinic if your Pap smear results are abnormal and suggests a treatment plan.

“As for abortions,” Garcia said. “There is no one in Pima County (government) that offers abortions, period.”

“For every $1 spent on family planning in Arizona, $11.27 is saved in Medicaid-related costs,” according to the statement.

The pro-choice statement also calls on Lesher to “convene community clinical partners” throughout the county to work to provide reproductive care.

Scott asked Lesher to provide regular updates to the board on how the staff is “convening” those partners. The county will also work with partners throughout Arizona and across the country to provide “accurate information” and “advocate for evidence-based reproductive health care, including abortion services.”

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Banning abortion “does little to reduce abortion rates,” according to the World Health Organization, “but instead leads women to induce abortions themselves or to seek abortions from unqualified providers.”

More than 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions, according to the WHO, and more than 5 million women suffer long-term health problems related to unsafe abortions.

“Women, particularly women from communities of color, who live in states with more restrictive reproductive rights policies have worse birth outcomes,” according to the county statement. “Including higher rates of low birth weight babies and financial results.”

Heinz, who is openly gay, provided a note of optimism, saying the Supreme Court “generally picks up on this.”

“We saw this with respect to some of the equality issues, gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act,” he said. “It took them a few rulings, but eventually they realized society had moved in a new direction, and the court eventually followed suit.”

He also held that abortion is constitutionally protected as the main legal document in the country guaranteeing freedom of religion in the First Amendment, the abolition of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment, and the protection of states’ rights in the Tenth Amendment.

Bennito L. Kelty is the TucsonSentinel.com IDEA Reporter, focusing on stories of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access, and a Report for America corps member endorsed by readers like you.

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