Flagstaff issues resolution to support abortion access, asks lawmakers to repeal anti-abortion laws
Flagstaff is now the third Arizona city to pass a resolution in support of abortion access, in protest of statewide restrictions.
The city council voted March 7 to approve a resolution denouncing the Arizona Legislature’s anti-abortion laws and opposing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to abortion. The resolution calls on lawmakers to repeal the current 15-week limit and directs local police to refer possible violations to the Arizona Department of Health Services instead of making arrests.
Similar measures were passed in Phoenix and Tucson last year, when Arizona was grappling with a near-total ban dating back to 1864 and a 2022 law prohibiting elective procedures after the 15-week mark. A December court ruling determined that the 2022 law supersedes the Civil War-era one.
Flagstaff is home to just one clinic that offers abortion services, although that care is currently paused due to staffing issues stemming, in part, from the uncertainty of last year.
The council’s 6-1 vote followed three hours of accusations and criticism from community members who opposed the measure, in sharp contrast to a Feb. 21 meeting when abortion advocates outnumbered detractors.
Bob Thorpe, a former GOP state lawmaker, called the high court’s decision in Roe v. Wade an egregious oversight that was corrected in Dobbs, and said the council’s resolution threatened to undo that work. Approving it, he warned, ignores the will of a large segment of Flagstaff’s citizenry.
“You represent all Flagstaff’s citizens,” he said. “Your resolution demonstrates your lack of respect for those Arizonans who believe that an abortion ends the life of a human.”
Michele Berrong, a retired public defender, questioned whether council members were violating their oaths of office by supporting a measure that sought to circumvent state and federal laws, but Councilman Jim McCarthy quickly rebutted that the resolution is simply a statement and not a local ordinance.
“It only suggests to the Legislature that they change the law. That’s just a matter of opinion,” he explained.
Several speakers cited their religious beliefs in their criticism of the resolution, calling abortion murder or equating it with the Holocaust or eugenics. Others said a statement in support of abortion is contrary to both the elected mandate of the council members and the city’s stated mission to “protect and enhance the quality of life for all.”
“Abortion does not protect or enhance the quality of life for all, especially our citizens in the womb,” said local pastor Dave Berry. “To support this resolution tramples the very mission you swore to uphold.”
“Stick to getting our streets plowed, getting our roads fixed,” said small business owner and former Bible college instructor Mark Haughwout.
Abortion advocates, meanwhile, praised council members and urged them to approve the resolution, saying it serves to support women when the state has failed to.
“It signals to women and families that (the) council values the physical, psychological and socio-economic well-being of the citizens of this city,” said Northern Arizona University professor Gioia Woods. “(It) does not mandate people have abortions, but instead supports the dignity of women and families to make the choice for themselves.”
Woods added that her more than 20 years of service to the community as a university professor wouldn’t have been possible without access to abortion care after she became pregnant from a date rape as a young woman. She lamented that her own children can no longer depend on that health care: Neither the current 15-week restriction nor the 1864 near-total ban include exceptions for rape or incest.
Julie Piering, another NAU professor, noted that the council’s resolution is in line with leading health and human rights standards. Both the United Nations and the World Health Organization view abortion care as an intrinsic part of reproductive health care and a human right that should be afforded to all women. While religious convictions should be respected, Piering said, they shouldn’t take precedence over the well-researched conclusions of established organizations.
“I very respectfully disagree that (religious beliefs) should determine our community’s position regarding access to abortion care that all evidence demonstrates is vital to the health, well-being and human rights of women,” she said.
Claims from detractors that a pro-abortion stance doesn’t reflect the values or convictions of Flagstaff were also disputed by abortion advocates. Community activist Susan Shapiro noted that a nearly year-long 2022 survey found that 62% of Arizonans agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Shapiro, who is a member of Flagstaff Abortion Alliance, which submitted a citizen petition to the city council in August 2022 requesting it issue a pro-abortion resolution, said that the midterm elections clearly supported that consensus.
“The people of this state elected a Democratic governor, attorney general and secretary of state — all of whom ran on a pro-choice platform,” she said. “The minority view…is deeply held. But that does not give them the right to force their personal religious beliefs on the rest of us.”
Council member Lori Matthews, the sole dissenting vote, disagreed. She noted that the religious views of community members should be upheld, especially when the resolution does nothing more than offer a statement in support. The 15-week law still allows abortions, she pointed out, and the majority of procedures occur within that timeframe.
“We can argue pro-life, pro-abortion, but the fact remains that, for 98% of the people who seek abortion, they are already covered,” she said, citing data from the Centers for Disease Control.
A 2021 report from the Arizona Department of Health Services found that just under 92% of abortions in the state were performed at or before 13 weeks.
But McCarthy argued that the issue isn’t so simple, as pregnancies among minors and rapes complicate the issue.
“If this were just about consenting adults, that would be a whole different thing,” he said. “Do we think that a 12-year-old girl should be forced to have a child? I don’t think so.”
Vice Mayor Austin Aslan added that the resolution’s value lay in letting the legislature know of Flagstaff’s dissent, especially in light of the fact that the 1864 near-total ban is still in play. An appeal seeking to overturn the court ruling that preserved access up to 15 weeks was filed last week.
“We have the right to disagree with our legislators,” echoed council member Deborah Harris.
Lawmakers fired back at that disagreement on social media. Republican senator Wendy Rogers, who represents Flagstaff and supported the passage of the 15-week law, slammed the vote on Twitter.
“They voted for DEATH & EVIL,” she wrote.
This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.