‘I Don’t Really Want to Go to Jail’: How One Doctor Kept Doing Abortions Post-Roe

A doctor in Arizona kept performing abortions after Roe v. Wade was overturned. But due to an 1864 law criminalizing abortion, chaos reigned.

In the hours after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday morning, all four phone lines at Gabrielle Goodrick’s abortion clinic in Phoenix rang nonstop.

The calls came in by the hundreds. People were in shock. They were hysterical. They cried. Many had no idea what Roe even was, let alone that a handful of Supreme Court justices had just ruled to erase the precedent, which had guaranteed the national right to abortion since 1973, as if it had never been. 

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After the Supreme Court dissolved Roe, most Arizona abortion providers stopped performing the procedure.

But Goodrick kept working.

“I knew all the other clinics had stopped, but I also felt like that just wasn’t the stand I was gonna take until I was directed to stop,” she said. The whole situation made Goodrick nervous, but, “when push comes to shove, these patients need our care.”

So, on Friday morning, she did abortions. Some patients were getting abortions later on in pregnancy, so they had taken medications the day before. “If I don't get their medical care, that would be medical malpractice,” Goodrick said. “I mean, I can't just abandon my patients.”

Then, around noon, a reporter sent Goodrick an announcement from the Arizona State Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. According to that announcement, an 1864 Arizona law that banned performing abortions on pregnant women “unless it is necessary to save her life” was now in effect. Immediately, Goodrick had her staff start cancelling appointments for the afternoon.

Without Roe, 13 states are expected to enact “trigger bans,” which are meant to ban abortion as soon as Roe was overturned. By the end of Friday, at least eight states were enforcing abortion bans.

Arizona doesn’t have a trigger law. But under the 1864 law, anyone who performs one “shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than two years nor more than five years.” When Roe was in place, that law, passed when Arizona was only a territory, was unenforceable—but it’s still on the books. Now, it could once again be used to punish abortion providers.

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“I don’t really want to go to jail,” said Goodrick, who is a family medicine doctor and has performed abortions in Arizona since 1995. “Honestly, I’m still fearful that when we report these to the state, they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was on the 24th’”—that is, after Roe was overturned. (In most states, including Arizona, data about abortions are collected for public health purposes.)

But she had one response to the possibility of prosecution: “Bring it on.”

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Friday decision to overturn Roe, chaos descended on abortion providers and patients across the country. In total, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions. But that stark statistic belies the complicated reality: In many states, abortion providers are still sorting out what, exactly, is legal to do. Seven states, including Arizona, have abortion bans on the books that date back to before Roe and that could now be enforced.

“I don’t know right now in how many states clinics have stopped providing care or paused providing care,” Jay Thibodeau, communications director for Abortion Care Network, a membership organization for independent clinics, told reporters on a call Friday. “And I do this work eight hours a day, every day. I live and breathe this work and I’m connected to abortion clinics regularly.”

“We are all scrambling,” Thibodeau continued. “This is chaotic. This is confusing. And so I can only imagine what this feels like for patients.”

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DeShawn Taylor runs Desert Star Family Planning, another abortion clinic in Phoenix. Unlike Goodrick, the OB-GYN decided to stop providing abortions as soon as Roe fell.

“We live in a state where it is highly likely that people in power in the state would likely participate in a political prosecution, even if it's not based in law,” Taylor said. “I am a Black woman. And if anybody's going to be criminalized for doing something that appears to be illegal, it's going to be me. We've seen who've been criminalized across the country so far, related to pregnancy-related stuff. They haven't been white. If I was a white, cis male, I might have interpreted my risk differently.”

In 2013, the organization National Advocates for Pregnant Women issued a study examining 413 civil and criminal cases where pregnant women were arrested, detained, or otherwise had their physical liberty taken away for something related to their pregnancy. The study concluded that Black women were “significantly more likely to be arrested, reported to state authorities by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges.”

“I have a significant portion of the people I serve who are people of color, and immigrants, and asylum seekers,” Taylor said. “I have a duty to not only protect myself but to protect them, too.”

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Both Taylor and Goodrick had both been working overtime to squeeze in as many abortion patients as possible before Roe fell, but after the ruling came down, they still had to cancel appointments. Arizona requires that people who get abortions undergo an in-person consultation and then wait 24 hours for the procedure. Although Taylor’s staff tried to reach patients over the phone to let them know that their appointments were off, one patient still showed up for her consultation.

“That person broke down and cried,” Taylor said.

“We just said, ‘You’ll have to seek care out of state or you go online and find help. We don’t know what to tell you. And good luck,’” Goodrick recalled staffers telling patients. Staffers advised some patients to call back next week, in the hopes that the situation would become clearer by then.

It was vague advice, but Goodrick had to direct her staffers not to give too much information. Under the 1864 law, helping someone “procure” an abortion could also lead to penalties. Even simply telling patients where else they could get abortions could potentially leave providers vulnerable to prosecution.

“‘Procuring’ could mean driving, referring, discussing. What does it mean?” Goodrick said. “They’ve just taken it to the extreme.” 

Taylor let patients know about INeedAnA.com, a website that helps people track down open abortion clinics.

“What we understand that we're able to do is point people to a resource, but not necessarily tell them what to do,” Taylor said. She felt like she wasn’t even able to send people’s medical records to another provider; instead, patients had to come in and pick up the records on their own. 

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This question of referrals is also a problem facing providers in other states. Even before Roe’s demise, abortions had already ceased in Oklahoma, since the state enacted a near-total ban last month. (The law flew in the face of Roe, but was allowed to stand because it relied on people suing one another over illegal abortions, instead of being enforced by the government.) Now, Oklahoma has enforced its trigger ban.

“It’s very unclear right now what we are actually allowed to do,” said Zachary Gingrich-Gaylord, communications director for Trust Women, an organization with a clinic in Oklahoma City. “Can we talk to people about websites to visit without running afoul of the law? So we’re being a little soft in Oklahoma on that for right now, because this is all very unclear as to what the liabilities or risks or legalities are down there.”

Adding to the uncertainty in Arizona is the fact that the state, like many others that are dominated by Republicans, has passed abortion restriction after abortion restriction, ultimately creating a morass of laws that overlap and even contradict one another. Before Roe, many of those abortion restrictions were halted in the courts—but now, state leaders have to sort out which ones will actually be enforced.

That confusion contributed to Goodrick’s decision to perform abortions on Friday. Earlier this year, Arizona passed a law to ban almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said in March that the 15-week ban, not the 1864 law, would go into effect if Roe were overturned. On Friday, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich also suggested that this was the case. 

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“The Arizona Legislature passed an identical law to the one upheld in Dobbs, which will take effect in approximately 90 days,” a press release from his office read. When Goodrick saw that statement, she thought abortions remained legal in Arizona.

But in its statement, the Arizona State Senate insisted that not only was the 1864 law in effect but the 15-week ban would be in effect soon, too—despite the fact that the latter law would be totally redundant.

“I just want to be told what to do and follow the rules and not get in trouble. But, I mean, when there's no consistency…,” Goodrick said. “Who makes the laws? Who is in charge? The attorney general of the state or the legislature? The governor didn't say anything.”

Goodrick is determined to keep her clinic open, even if she can’t perform abortions; she plans to offer other services and help patients with miscarriages. She’s reassured her staff that they will not lose their jobs. Like the would-be patients, they were shocked and devastated by the ruling. Most went home after Goodrick got the news from the state Senate.

By Saturday, Goodrick said she felt resigned to the end of Roe. She’s still hopeful that she’ll be able to perform abortions again in Arizona, once the legal confusion is sorted out. And she also hopes that this will finally make people pay attention to abortion rights.

“As more women find out they’re pregnant with an unplanned pregnancy over this weekend and next week and the weeks to come, and they face the reality of traveling out of state if they have the resources—it hopefully will compel them to vote,” Goodrick said. 

“People’s apathy toward this issue is remarkable and that led to this moment,” Goodrick continued. “I feel like this, in a sick way, had to happen to wake people the fuck up.”

Tagged:

Arizona, abortion, supreme court, roe v. wade, criminalizing abortion

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