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Inside an Arizona abortion clinic post-Roe

Fifteen women, one man and a baby cooing in a stroller were already lined up outside Camelback Family Planning when it opened on a recent summer morning.

By 7:30 a.m., it was 95 degrees. Monsoon season summoned an oppressive humidity. Mosquitoes hovered, eager to feed.

People kept showing up and waiting outside — sometimes for hours — to seek an appointment at the only abortion clinic in Arizona still offering surgical procedures up to 23 weeks and six days of pregnancy.

Women standing outside a building near a tree

Women line up outside Camelback Family Planning on Aug. 1 for a chance at an appointment.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The clinic — run by a crew of defiant women who don’t suffer fools and have a penchant for breaking into spontaneous dance — has become a haven in the post-Roe United States. It’s a last resort for desperate and pregnant people who desire abortions but won’t or can’t travel out of state, because they don’t have time, child care or money.

Many abortion clinics nationwide stopped providing services after the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24 issued the Dobbs decision, which, by overturning Roe vs. Wade, eliminated 50 years of federal protections for abortion care. In Arizona, the move has wrought confusion because the state’s laws are vague on whether abortions are outlawed.

Most of the state’s abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood of Arizona, erred on the side of caution, halting all abortion care. Some providers are duking it out in court. Many are paralyzed, fearful of legal repercussions. Most wait for further clarity.

But the all-woman crew at Camelback Family Planning, northeast of downtown Phoenix, refuses to be intimidated. They show up to the clinic, crank up the music and carry on.

They say their mission is simple.

A nurse talking in front of reception window

“We set women free all day long,” says nurse Rose Lopez-McKinnon, 63.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“We set women free all day long,” said Rose Lopez-McKinnon, a 63-year-old registered nurse.

Those without appointments start lining up as early as 6 a.m. Usually, the slots for the day are filled by 8 a.m., when the office opens. Signs posted on the front door read: “No masks. No service.”

The women are called into the clinic three at a time. Many are with partners, a friend or a child; some are alone. Inside, it looks like a regular doctor’s office: magazines on a side table and a children’s corner with an abacus-like toy.

But there’s also something of a feminist flair.

The first thing patients see is a large poster of Shepard Fairey’s “Mujer Fatale,” featuring a mysterious masked woman. At the check-in counter they are greeted with the words “WE PERSIST” emblazoned on bullet-resistant glass separating the office and the waiting room. A painting of pink, green and yellow uteri strung on a clothesline hangs on a pale-yellow wall. Condoms in gold packaging are up for grabs in a white bowl near the scheduling desk.

Beyond the waiting room and past the security doors is a team of women. Nurses, technicians and office staff are led by Dr. Gabrielle Goodrich, a no-nonsense 57-year-old OB-GYN with purple scrubs, salt-and-pepper locks and turquoise glasses.

A woman standing in an office

Dr. Gabrielle Goodrich leads the all-woman team at Camelback Family Planning clinic in Phoenix.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

The office is understaffed, and the women are close. They range in age from their 20s to their 60s. Some are salty, others sweet, but all are empathetic toward the desperate patients who want to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

The women in the front office tend to be younger. They play DJ, choosing ’90s grunge girl music, contemporary bachata or even the calming and ethereal score to an obscure 1980 Italian horror film.

On a recent morning, Guennia Pinedo took payments and scheduled patients for abortions more than 24 hours after their consent.

Cheyenne, 23, who didn’t want to give her last name, checked in patients, stretching out her arms like Gumby to file paperwork while answering calls from people who tended to ask the same questions.

“Are you open? Is abortion still legal here?”

“Yes, we are. Yes, it is,” Cheyenne tells the callers.

Goodrich started the clinic in 1999. About seven years later, she bought her current location, six miles down the road. She expanded to the adjacent suite in April.

The clinic is a standard doctor’s office that charges $660 and up for medical and surgical abortions. Patients who can’t afford the full fee are given information on how to apply to various funds. Patients are typically in a rough patch in their life — but not always. Many have children.

For Goodrich, continuing abortion care in a state where many have stopped felt like the right thing to do.

“We are giving them their life back,” said the mother of two adult sons. “Parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It can be romanticized in Hollywood … the joy of motherhood and babies. But what if you’re not capable of taking care of yourself? It’s not something you can impose on someone.”

The day Roe fell, Camelback and other clinics in Arizona stopped providing abortions for about two weeks. On July 11, a federal judge issued an injunction stopping the enforcement of a 2021 Arizona statute — commonly called the “personhood law”— that grants human rights to fetuses, stating that the law was too vague.

Arizona also has a ban dating to the 1800s that had been blocked by the courts since the 1973 Roe decision. Pima County, which includes Tucson, filed an injunction to stop the law that same year. It has never been lifted, meaning the injunction remains in effect some 50 years later.

In March, the Arizona Legislature passed a ban on all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The law takes effect Sept. 24.

Goodrich, who has provided abortion care since 1995, said she thought “long and hard” about whether she should continue providing that service at the clinic.

She resumed abortions. At first she was nervous, but as the days and weeks wore on, the feeling subsided.

“They haven’t come for me yet,” she said. “But what are they going to do? It would be hard for them to say I’m doing anything wrong based on an 1864 territorial law that has an injunction.”

A smattering of Arizona clinics still offer medical abortions, which don’t require surgery or anesthesia. There is at least one other clinic in Pima County offering surgical abortions up to 14 weeks and six days of pregnancy.

Still, there is a lot of misinformation and fear.

Yolanda, a 32-year-old who didn’t want to give her last name, was among the first patients that Monday morning at Camelback. She was seven weeks and five days pregnant when she discovered that her intrauterine device had failed.

Woman wearing mask sits on a chair.

Yolanda, 32, was among the first patients one Monday morning at the clinic.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

A busy mom with a full-time job, she doesn’t keep tabs on the news and had no idea that the nation’s highest court had gutted Roe. She has five children at home, ages 3 to 14, and doesn’t want more. She simply can’t afford it.

“I have a [Nissan] Pathfinder. Seven people fit in that. I wouldn’t be able to fit another child in there,” Yolanda thought. “I’d have to buy another car. I don’t even think they make a car that would fit another child.”

The day she found out she was pregnant, she went to a clinic where they removed her IUD and performed an ultrasound. It was early in the pregnancy, and she thought she’d have a medical abortion.

An Arizona clinic had referred Yolanda to its sister location in Las Vegas. Nevada doesn’t have the abortion restrictions that have popped up in other states since the Dobbs decision.

A day before she was to fly out, she learned about Camelback Family Planning.

Minutes before her procedure, Yolanda teared up in the waiting room. She was upset with “politicians” — how they had just delayed the inevitable, allowing the embryo to grow inside her. She felt bad for having an abortion. She doesn’t want her family or friends to know about it. But she reasoned that it was the only way.

“We are barely getting by. We have two car payments. We have insurance payments,” she said. “Then we have to buy groceries for five freaking kids, and they eat a lot.”

Her procedure took a few minutes. Her mother picked her up, having been told only that it was a medical appointment. Her husband scheduled a vasectomy for later that week.

Later that morning, Cheyenne and Pinedo sipped coffee and took stock of the day ahead.

There were 15 surgical abortions and five medical abortions scheduled. Twenty people had lined up outside for their first intake; they’d give their consent for an abortion that would be scheduled for a later day.

Inside the office, a television displayed surveillance camera angles. On this day, there weren’t any protesters. But staffers remained vigilant, especially for one elderly man with a long, white beard whom they call “Bad Santa.” One day, they said, he chased a patient in the parking lot.

A poster with mugshots of 39 antiabortion protesters — mostly men — who have been arrested throughout the country decorates one office wall. The staff call it “the wall of shame.” The office workers said they are directed to shred everything, even mostly blank pieces of paper with no patient information, because protesters rummage through the garbage.

Between patients, Cheyenne told Pinedo about something her boyfriend had said.

“Hey, if things get bad, I think we should talk about me getting a vasectomy,” he told Cheyenne.

“You’re such a good boyfriend,” she replied. “I love you.”

The ladies laughed.

Two women talking in a hallway

Nurse Rose Lopez-McKinnon, 63, left, speaks about Roe vs. Wade before leaving Camelback Family Planning clinic.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

While the world outside has grown uncertain, the camaraderie at the clinic has grown stronger. They argue sometimes, Lopez-McKinnon said, but they look out for one another.

“Did you ever see ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’? We are the Island of Misfit Toys. We’re all just a little bit weird, and that’s OK,” she said. “That’s what’s nice about this healthcare environment. We all come together for a mission: to save women.”

After lunch, a client named Virginia got called up for a consultation. The 28-year-old, who didn’t want to give her surname, had just gotten out of a sober living facility.

She’d been clean for nearly four months after using fentanyl for years. Her life, she said, is back on track. She has a 5-year-old daughter; a baby would surely derail her progress.

“Oh, my God. I can’t do this right now,” is what she thought when she discovered she was about four weeks pregnant, she said. She knew about the Dobbs decision and thought she might have to go to California.

A friend she met in rehab had traveled to El Cajon for an abortion. Virginia, with nails painted a glittery red, said she nearly relapsed before she found out about Camelback.

Lopez-McKinnon took down her information. She congratulated Virginia for staying sober. She urged her to get on some sort of birth control.

A nurse talking to a patient

Nurse Rose Lopez-McKinnon speaks to Virginia, 28, at the clinic on Aug. 1.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I want you to clearly understand after we do this abortion,” she said, that there must be no sex “before you get that IUD. … Because you can get pregnant in a hot second after this.”

Nearly every exam room displays fliers urging patients to register to vote: “Text ‘Vote Camelback’ to 34444.”

Sometimes Lopez-McKinnon takes it further.

“Make sure you vote. Are you registered? Because that piece of goo has more rights than you do,” she’ll say, pointing to an ultrasound.

By 3 p.m., the women seemed to be losing steam. Cheyenne and Pinedo were the only ones working the office; normally there are at least four women on duty. Goodrich said she’d like to hire more office staff and nurses, but a nursing shortage and uncertainty over the state’s abortion laws are making it hard to do so.

On Aug. 19, a Pima County Superior Court judge is scheduled to hear a case on whether the abortion ban implemented in the 1860s and codified into the state constitution in 1901 can again become law in 2022. The Civil War-era law provides one exception: to save the life of the mother. It would send abortion providers to jail.

“It could all be over in two weeks,” Goodrich said as she faxed paperwork to reactivate her medical licenses in blue states — California, New Mexico and Colorado — just in case.

Women at a reception desk

Kimberly Ceus, left, schedules an abortion Aug. 1 at Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

It was near the end of the day when Kimberly Ceus, a college student, was called in. The 29-year-old, who wore selenite crystal around her neck to “repel bad energy,” was second to last in line. She’d gone home to wait until her afternoon appointment.

Ceus was very early in her pregnancy, about three weeks.

She’s a single mother to a 7-year-old girl and doesn’t want more children. After she gave birth, she wanted to get a tubal ligation, she said, but doctors refused to do it.

“You’re too young,” one doctor told her.

“You’re going to want more in the future,” another said.

A nurse at Camelback handed her a flier with a list of doctors who are willing to perform tubal ligations.

Ceus said her boyfriend had told her he was infertile. She broke up with him, she said, because he treated her poorly and she discovered he’d been unfaithful.

A woman sitting in a waiting room

Kimberly Ceus in the waiting room at Camelback Family Planning.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“I would never bring a child into this,” she thought. “Look at that man. I would have to deal with him for 18 years. No thanks.”

Lopez-McKinnon doesn’t hold much hope. She believes this generation of women is too complacent and not willing to go to battle for other women and the rights her generation fought for. She believes they are too self-centered and distracted.

Recently, a girl asked about her Ruth Bader Ginsburg pin.

“Is that your mother?” the girl asked about the image of the late Supreme Court justice.

The nurse shook her head.

Goodrich is more hopeful.

Regardless of what happens, she and a fellow doctor plan to open a clinic in Indio. It’s about a four-hour drive from Camelback Family Planning. She plans to call it Desert Crossing.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-08/arizona-abortion-clinic-post-roe-v-wade-decision Inside an Arizona abortion clinic post-Roe

Alley Einstein

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