This article was originally published by the Tucson Sentinel
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 in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
“Abortion is healthcare,” said Board Chairwoman Sharon Bronson. “This resolution positively asserts that fact and states our Health Department will continue to aid Pima County families in their reproductive health and family planning needs.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to eliminate a constitutional right to an abortion. The June 24 decision overturned Roe v. Wade, which had been in place for nearly 50 years.
The Board of Supervisors responded to the controversial ruling on Tuesday, their first meeting since the decision was released, and voted 4-1 to declare their “support for access to reproductive health care, including legal safe abortion services.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision ends this basic right of safe access to appropriate health care for too many women and families in this country,” the declaration reads. “Access to legal, safe abortion, and comprehensive sexual and reproductive health more broadly, are critical to protecting and supporting the public’s health.”
The single opposing vote came from Supervisor Steve Christy, the lone Republican on the board, who didn’t speak about his vote and attended the meeting virtually.
Supervisor Adelita Grijalva, whose district is based largely in metro Tucson, said that outlawing abortion puts the health of women at risk.
“Criminalizing abortion needlessly endangers the lives of women and menstruators,” she said at the meeting. “Make no mistake. Denying someone the choice to safely terminate their pregnancy is not about saving a possible life. It is a form of oppression.”
“It’s sad that we live in a country where my daughter has less rights and freedoms than her mother and grandmother,” Grijalva said.
Supervisors Rex Scott and Matt Heinz voiced their support for Grijalva’s statement and the declaration of support for abortions and family planning services.
The county should extend their reproductive health services, said Supervisor Heinz, an M.D. who works in a local hospital, by offering counseling through telehealth programs, including offering advice on emergency contraception.
Bronson put the declaration on the agenda.
“While state law prohibits the county from providing full reproductive health services such as abortion, we’re not prevented from providing other services or accurate information about sexual and reproductive health,” she said in a news release after the vote.
The declaration assigned several tasks to County Administrator Jan Lesher in addition to advocating for reproductive rights, requiring that county staff “ensure that a broad range of legal reproductive health services” are available through the Health Department.
Publicly funded family planning services in Arizona can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions by 27 percent, according to the Arizona Family Health Partnership, a nonprofit organization. Public funding of such services also reduces the rate of teen pregnancies 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 either the Theresa Lee Public Health Center or the North Clinic for birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), depo provera shots (DEPO), implants, condoms and ring and cycle beads.
The county doesn’t refuse anyone service because of an inability to pay, but fees are set at a sliding scale based on income. The county lists their services and clinic hours online.
The two mentioned county clinics are the only ones that provide family planning services. However, emergency contraceptive pills, also known as “the morning-after pill” are also available at county mobile clinics and the East Clinic, said Dr. Francisco Garcia, the county’s chief medical officer.
The pill can “greatly reduce the risk of pregnancy” if taken within 72-120 hours of sex, according to the county. A prescription isn’t needed for emergency contraception pills.
Other family planning and reproductive health services offered by the county include:
- Family planning, counseling and education
- Pregnancy testing and counseling
- Sexually transmitted infection screening and treatment
- Breast exams – ff abnormalities are detected, referrals are given to the Well Woman HealthCheck program
- Examinations – Pelvic and/or pap tests as needed.
- Abnormal pap smear treatment – the county makes referrals to its colposcopy clinic if pap smear results are abnormal and suggest a treatment plan.
“As for abortions,” Garcia said. “There is no one in Pima County (government) offering abortions, period.”
“For every $1 spent on family planning in Arizona, $11.27 is saved in Medicaid related costs,” according to the declaration.
The pro-choice declaration also calls on Lesher to “convene community clinical partners” across the county to work to offer reproductive care.
Scott asked Lesher to give regular updates to the board on how staff is “convening” those partners. The county will also work with partners across Arizona and nationwide to deliver “accurate information” and “advocate for evidence-based reproductive health care, including abortion services.”
Banning abortion “does little to reduce abortion rates,” according to the World Health Organization, “but instead drives women to induce abortions themselves or to seek abortions from unskilled providers.”
More than 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortions, according to the WHO, and more than 5 million women suffer from long-term health issues related to unsafe abortions.
“Women — in particular women from communities of color — living in states with more restrictive reproductive rights policies have poorer birth outcomes,” according to the county declaration. “Including higher rates of low-birthweight babies and financial outcomes.”
Heinz, who’s openly gay, provided a note of optimism, saying the Supreme Court “usually figures this out.”
“We saw this with regard to some of the equality issues, gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act,” he said. “It took them a few rulings, but they finally figured out that society had moved in a new direction, and the court eventually followed.”
He also contended that abortion is constitutionally protected as the top legal document in the land guarantees freedom of religion in the First Amendment, the abolition of slavery in the Thirteenth Amendment and the protection of rights from the states in the Tenth Amendment.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.