Access denied: abortion services missing in rural areas

If you want an abortion in Southeast Arizona, you’re out of luck.

And for some women in the state, access to the health care could be stymied by Arizona Senate Bill 1318, which would stop the ability for a woman to get an abortion if she is insured through federal healthcare exchange.

This bill passed through the Senate 17-12 on Feb. 19, and has been sent to the House of Representatives.

Arizona’s current legislation decreases the access to abortion, but there are still women who didn’t have access in the first place.

Small, rural areas are not only often lacking in resources. Basic services like birth control and pregnancy services are available from many providers in the area. But the closest abortion clinic to Bisbee, the seat of Cochise County, is located 100 miles away in Tucson.

With a lack to healthcare access in rural areas, many residents are at a disadvantage if they are ill. Women looking to obtain an abortion procedure remain especially affected by this.

“Travel is always a barrier,” said Noemi Chavez, Women’s Health Program Manager for Ginger Ryan Clinic in Douglas. “For us down here, everything is in Sierra Vista. To see a specialist, you have to go out there.”

If a woman is interested in pursuing an abortion, she has no option but to travel to Tucson or Phoenix to receive services. Planned Parenthood centers in Tucson do not mail emergency contraception or abortion pills.

Arizona law already requires women seeking an abortion to visit a doctor at least 24 hours before their scheduled procedure, so they may be informed of the consent material required by the state.

Chavez also discussed the language barrier that can affect women in the area. “Everyone out here speaks Spanish,” said Chavez. “But you go out to Sierra Vista, and the providers don’t speak Spanish.”

A woman can visit a medical provider to obtain a prescription and fill it at her local pharmacy, but that still requires travel to the medical provider. Planned Parenthood is able to mail birth control pills, but that still requires an in-person visit to the center. Because abortions are physically invasive procedures, they require a medical examination so that a medical provider may help determine the best options for the patient.

Kat Sabine, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona, hopes for more healthcare and abortion access for women in Arizona.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is a nationwide non-profit that educates and advocates around reproductive health options, including support for abortion healthcare. The organization believes that birth control and education are necessary in reducing unintended pregnancy, but that abortions should remain legal.

“The doctors we work with provide excellent care, but they are unfortunately overworked and stressed,” said Sabine. “There are so few centers across the state to meet the needs women living outside Phoenix or Tucson.”

Beyond the obvious geographical barriers that exist, some see anti-abortion pregnancy outreach centers as another, as these outreach centers do not employ medical professionals, and their aim is to push people away from pursuing abortion services.

There is one in the area: Carenet Pregnancy Center of Cochise County, located in Sierra Vista.

Carenet Pregnancy Center is a faith-based center that aims to educate women on pregnancy options aside from abortion. The center also provides abstinence-only education to children in the county.

“Everybody that works here is a Christian,” said Adèle Schloemer, assistant director of Carenet. The center is supported by several different area churches, and is a part of the national Carenet organization.

Schloemer also said the organization is made up of volunteers, none of whom are professional counselors or doctors. The center and its volunteers provide free services such as parenting education, pregnancy testing, and first-semester ultrasounds for expectant mothers.

While organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona and Planned Parenthood are hopeful for an increase in access to abortive services, others believe that it isn’t necessary.

Tina Upshaw, executive director of Carenet, believes the biggest issue facing pregnant women is not access to resources, but feeling like they are going through their pregnancy alone.

Other anti-abortion groups hold these sentiments as well.

“There are groups and organizations around that are wholly committed to helping with the spiritual, physical, practical and emotional needs when facing an unplanned pregnancy,” said Jason Walsh, executive director of Arizona Right to Life.

Arizona Right to Life is an organization dedicated to educating the anti-abortion base, the at-risk audience, and the public and political marketplace about the humanity of the unborn child, according to Walsh.

Walsh supports centers such as Carenet, but does not support organizations that provide abortion services.

“Planned Parenthood makes upwards of $150 million a year killing innocent human beings,” said Walsh. “Where is the love in that?”

Sabine, however, hopes for a future with fewer barriers for women to get abortions.

The Arizona legislature has a history of proposing – and passing – bills to restrict abortion access in the state.

“We are dismayed and increasingly alarmed at the lengths politicians are willing to go,” said Sabine. “We would like to see the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare offered in private settings that place the woman’s values and educated decisions at the center of her care.”

Jordan Allison is a reporter for the Tombstone Epitaph and Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at jordanallison@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution graphics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.