In the latest case of abortion rights being rolled back in a post-Roe America, an Arizona judge ruled last week that an 1864 state ban prohibiting nearly all abortions and criminalizing those who provide them needed to be enforced. Codified before Arizona even became a state, the old law requires that any person who provides an abortion, or the means to an abortion, will be “punished” with two to five years in prison. The ruling grants no exceptions for rape or incest, only if the life of the mother is at risk—an amorphous rule that doctors warn is dangerous to apply in practice.
Pima County Superior Court Judge Kellie Johnson lifted a 1973 injunction against the old law on September 23, just one day before Governor Doug Ducey’s separate 15-week ban was set to take effect. Planned Parenthood of Arizona has already filed for an immediate stay of the ruling.
Abortion-focused organizations across the state have, once again, been tasked with figuring out what to do in the coming days, weeks, and months in order to continue providing access and care given the new ban. At the center of this shuffle is Eloisa Lopez, the executive director of Pro-Choice Arizona and its program the Abortion Fund of Arizona. I spoke with Lopez this week about the bans and the already-cascading consequences for vulnerable Arizonans.
TNR: What were your immediate thoughts and emotions when you heard the decision upholding the 1864 ban?
Eloisa Lopez: I think I’m naturally an optimistic person by default, and I wanted to believe “there’s no way a judge will allow a bill from the 1800s to take effect.”
What have you been hearing from patients, and what have you been telling them?
We have been reaffirming with our communities and patients that we are here to shift gears and get you to the next place, and now that’s out of state.
It’s always devastating to be a patient en route to your appointment and then getting a call from a clinic saying, ‘We had to cancel for the foreseeable future.’ As a person who has had an abortion, and the experiences that I’ve gone through, my mind goes to: That abortion could have saved a person of their circumstances. I hope they will continue to try to connect with us to get them to the next place.
A lot of states have trigger bans that have gone into effect post-Dobbs. What’s unique about Arizona?
We already had so many restrictions in place. We’ve already experienced the loss of access. For so many people, abortion was not a reality, even when our state had rights.
I think Arizona is uniquely positioned because we’re fortunate to be next to four states that have protection. And we’ve already been building partnerships with them. As soon as Dobbs was announced, we had our neighboring states reach out to us and be like, “What can we do from our state to ensure protections for your people?”
A lot of people have been marveling at the fact that this law is from before Arizona was even a state. What do you think is the significance of this being from the 1800s?
This language is so outdated. Let’s look at the historical context of that: Women were property at that time. Women had nothing. Let’s be real and call out that that is the goal of the white man in power. They are infuriated that people who can become pregnant—a large demographic identify as cis women, but nonbinary people, LGBTQ people [too]—they are upset that we can intentionally choose to not have kids. I think they’re in a place of desperation now. They’re going to extremes. They’re bringing back bills from the 1800s. They know they are losing soon, and that is I think what keeps me going. The path that they’re on is not sustainable.
What does funding abortions look like in this post-ban reality? How is it going to be different from the work that you have been doing?
Since our fund started in 2017, we have supported over 2,500 patients. We’ve always worked with a small percentage of people who had to travel out of state. Depending on the area of the state you live in, there might be a closer clinic to you out of state, like California, or Vegas is an area we send a lot of people to. But now every patient coming to us is going to need that.
It also depends on what’s happening in a patient’s life. Can they get that time off work? We’ve seen people take time off work to travel, come back, and lose their job. Over 70 percent of our callers already have children. Appointments don’t let you bring your children inside. Do you have childcare to watch your kid for two or three days? That, as a parent, is also very nerve-racking, because not only are you stressed about your appointment and getting there, you’re also stressed about the well-being of your kid.
Then, transportation is always the biggest thing for us. We live in a state that’s extremely hot, and it’s very common for cars to overheat and break down. Not many people have reliable transportation to drive over 100 miles. There are times we’re paying for oil changes. It just makes sense for us to pay for that, so somebody can have peace of mind to go to their appointment. We call it practical support, which focuses on logistical and geographical barriers.
How did you get into this work?
I’ve always been a supporter of abortion rights and access. Before I had children, I had an abortion. And then I did have a moment where I was like, “Wait, I do want kids.” After I had my first abortion, I found myself in an abusive situation having children. In my second pregnancy, I lived in domestic violence that entire time. I was at a birth justice panel, I was listening to a midwife that I really admired in our community, and a group of people were just like, “There’s a new abortion fund, and they need volunteers,” and so I was like, “You know what, I’m gonna do that.”
Six months after I had started, they asked me to lead the fund. I started to lead the entire organization, and I redesigned it. Our organization was very white, repro rights–focused—so let’s start bringing in justice.
Who is going to be hit hardest by this ruling?
It’s always marginalized communities.
Here in Arizona, specifically, we have a large Latino population. We are a border state; we have a large undocumented population. These people—and they’re my people, I am of that descent as a Mexican person with immigrant parents here—they already struggle accessing health care. Our undocumented community lives in constant fear of ICE, of not being able to walk into a clinic because of what can happen to them.
People living in rural communities. Phoenix is the major city, but the rest of the state really lacks infrastructure. Eighty percent of our counties [didn’t] have access to an abortion clinic [before the ruling]. But when you look at the larger picture, I always love to talk about abortion care as maternal health care, cause that’s really what it is. And the stigma has isolated it. We have very limited rural counties who actually have maternal health systems set up.
We’re seeing homeless people remain pregnant and birth children. Not only is it impacting them personally, but now their child is going to be severely undernourished and impacted by these conditions. Unaffordable housing is on the rise here; we have a high homeless population, and our city is doing nothing about it. Every month, there’s at least five calls [from] a homeless person who’s pregnant, needing abortion services.
Our native and Indigenous communities on the tribal lands. They already do not have health care infrastructure—it’s really poor for them—and our government is not aiding them in any way with those issues.
What are you predicting for the future of abortion in the midterms?
I think this ban has now, perhaps, awakened the people who took for granted that we had these rights. The people living in that reality of lack of access, they’ve already experienced what it’s like to not have abortion. This ban kind of came in a prime moment to get people activated and paying attention to elections. Now we have a demographic—white feminism, they’re more privileged, they have resources—they are now equally upset. They are now actually committed to doing action about it. We’re hoping that there is a stronger turnout in the elections. And as a state [that] has been purple for the last elections, we see more progress. Also, we see a really scary demographic, of these Kari Lake supporters. We have a heavily present anti-abortion, white-supremacy, extremist population here, and it will be a very tight race.
This ban criminalizes abortion providers. Advocates say this leads medical professionals to be hesitant or afraid to provide care in wanted pregnancies and in life-threatening situations—miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, etc.
As an industrialized country, one of the wealthiest in the world, we have the highest maternal mortality rate [out of wealthy countries]. That speaks volumes. Pregnant people are not a priority in this country, they never have been. Women of color, Black and brown women, pregnant people, have never been a priority. Black women are four times more likely to die carrying a child to term than their white counterpart[s]. It’s never been a priority for the anti-abortion side to truly care about the well-being of pregnant people and children.
The entire systems need to be dismantled. Abolitionist values is what I’m driving our organization forward with. Reform is not the solution; we’ve seen what reform does. It just puts a Band-Aid on the problems temporarily, then it slowly reverts back to the way it was running. There need to be completely new systems in place because we’re moving in the direction of forcing people to remain pregnant, and this country has a history of never prioritizing them.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.