What the VA providing abortions regardless of state laws means for Arizona

With two different Arizona abortion laws working their way through the courts, this could give abortion access to some military women and families.
Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 8:01 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — The abortion debate continues to heat up with a big new move on Friday. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will soon offer abortions in certain cases, and abortion counseling regardless of state laws and restrictions. With two different Arizona abortion laws working their way through the courts, this could give abortion access to some military women and families that otherwise may be banned in Arizona.

One of the situations where the VA will provide abortion is in cases of rape or incest, which is not an exception in Arizona. So how can the VA do this in states like Arizona? “Something that’s known as the Supremacy Clause that federal law takes priority and overcomes any conflicting state law,” said Mark Kokanovich, a former United States attorney and current Ballard Spahr attorney.

Kokanovich said the Biden administration has power over the VA because the federal government is in charge of that department. Currently, two Arizona laws are working their way through the courts. One is a territorial law in effect from the 1800s that says abortions will only be allowed to save the mother’s life with no exceptions for rape or incest, and providers who perform abortions otherwise will face prison time. The other law is a 15-week abortion ban, which also has no exceptions for rape or incest, that goes into effect later this month. “We kind of get thrown into turmoil and new rules are going to take a while to work their ways through the court system and legislatures of the various states. It’s a really uncertain time,” Kokanovich said.

Much of those kinds of consequences will be up to Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell. Arizona’s Family’s political editor Dennis Welch point-blank asked Mitchell Friday if she will be sending investigators to abortion clinics to regulate laws or if she’ll wait for law enforcement to come to her. “It’s going to be law enforcement-initiated investigations,” Mitchell said.

While she’s hesitant to make definitive statements since the laws haven’t been finalized in Arizona, she is adamant about one thing when it comes to abortions. “Women are not to be prosecuted, that the Legislature has made it clear that they want women not to be prosecuted and I would not do that because that is the state of the law. As far as providers, we’re going to wait and see what the courts say that the law is,” Mitchell said.

The VA said Friday that in cases of rape or incest, some states require you to report it to law enforcement first, but they will not require that and will allow self-reporting by a veteran or VA beneficiary as enough to go forward with the abortion.