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Arizona offers little protection for rape, incest victims in post-Roe world

File image: a pro-choice demonstrator protests in Flagstaff
KNAU/Gillian Ferris
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A pro-choice demonstrator at Flagstaff City Hall protests the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, June, 2022

Arizona’s laws surrounding abortion are still unclear in the weeks since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Advocates say the lack of clarity can make an already difficult situation even more challenging — especially for victims of sexual assault, incest and domestic violence. KNAU’s Bree Burkitt spoke with Brittany Fonteno, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, about the lack of protections for victims and survivors seeking an abortion.

BB: So where does the law stand currently?

BF: In Arizona, we continue to be in legal limbo when it comes to abortion access and rights. We have over a century-old pre-Roe ban on abortion – these are those laws that date back to 1864. And they would be a complete ban on abortion with only one exception and that would be to save the life of the pregnant person.

This is particularly cruel, it is criminalization, it is not civil. And it doesn't include any exceptions for rape, incest or other exceptions that you would typically see in abortion restrictions.

We also have a personhood statute that was part of a larger omnibus bill that was signed into law in 2021 and so this is an extreme and vague statute that would give rights and privileges to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses.

We had a small victory where a federal district court found that the interpretation was vague and granted a preliminary block on this being applied to abortion care.

And then the final law that I'll highlight is that we have a 15-week ban, which was signed into law earlier this spring by Governor Ducey, and it would be set to go into effect in late September.

BB: And so under Arizona state law, they don't seem to differentiate how the conception occurred. So it doesn't matter if it occurred as the result of a sexual assault and incest situation, or even as the result of domestic violence.

BF: The lack of compassion, the cruelty that we are seeing toward people who are victims and survivors of rape, of incest, of domestic violence situations is just really astounding.

And so while we can't turn to our public officials for that type of protection, I think that we can turn to organizations that are doing really important work.

There are nonprofits, social service organizations that will at least be able to help provide resources and information and services like counseling so that some of that healing can occur.

BB: Are there any protections in place for victims at this point? Or is it still too soon to tell?

BF: I have not seen any protections, so I would say it's too soon to tell. I think that we have a very tangled web of laws here in Arizona that restrict access to abortion and really impede our rights to control our own bodies.

And, you know, as this is all intertwined because we're talking about bodily autonomy.

So this idea that someone has been victimized at the hands of a predator, and then is further victimized by the denial of the state to be able to make a decision about their own body and whether they end a pregnancy is just, I would say, furthering the victimization of a person who is in this position.

BB: So at this point, have we seen anyone come out and say they intend to prosecute anyone seeking an abortion?

BF: Seven in 10 Arizonans support abortion, access and rights. And so we know that this is a position that has broad support.

However, we have an attorney general, who is the chief legal officer in our state, and he has said that he believes the pre-Roe bans are in effect. He has actually only served to give more chaos and confusion to the legal limbo that we're here in Arizona. In one breath, he says that the pre-Roe bans from the 1800s are in effect and then in the next sentence, he says that he's going to go to court to ask the court to lift the injunction from 1973 on these pre-Roe bans.

We don't know what our rights are when it comes to this, which is one of the most personal decisions that a person can make. And we feel very strongly that, at Planned Parenthood, that our role and responsibility is to try to provide guidance where we can and to continue serving our patients with the other sexual and reproductive health care that remains so vital.

Bree Burkitt is the host of Morning Edition and a reporter for KNAU. Previously, she worked as a reporter and editor for The Arizona Republic, covering public safety, law enforcement and crime. She is a graduate of Northern Arizona University and has additionally worked at The Spectrum & Daily News in Southern Utah and the Arizona Daily Sun. When not working, Bree can usually be found reading or out in the woods with her two dogs, Jill and Sonora.