Prosecutions, deaths, the history of abortion in Arizona

Sherri Chessen’s story, featured in the 1992 movie “A Private Matter,” starring Sissy Spacek, shows harsh realities of a total abortion ban that some now want to bring back to Arizona.

By Ray Stern | Arizona Republic

The last person prosecuted for providing an abortion in Arizona was a chiropractor named J. Norman Wahlrab.

In the fall of 1970, a 23-year-old woman accused him of injuring her during a $500 abortion in his Seventh Avenue office, an Arizona Republic article from the era states.

He gave her $200 back and sent her to the hospital after she began hemorrhaging severely.

He was fighting his conviction and a 2-to-4 year prison sentence until the announcement of an Arizona Court of Appeals opinion that came April 24, 1973, four months after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

“Although we disagree with the Wade opinion we are bound by the U.S. Supreme Court decision,” then-Presiding Judge William Eubank wrote. “We therefore hold that appellant’s conviction and sentence under our statute cannot stand.”

Wahlrab died in Tempe in 1996, at the age of 72.

Despite opposition from state leaders at the time, Roe v. Wade brought an end to enforcement of what is now a 158-year-old Arizona statute banning abortion services.

But the law is still on the books and its revival — and enforcement — could happen again if the U.S. Supreme Court cancels the 1973 protections, as a leaked draft opinion suggests is imminent.

Whether its enforcement definitely would occur is unclear. Gov. Doug Ducey said a law passed this year that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy would take precedence. Others, including the sponsor of the new law, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, disagree, pointing out that it contains language that attempts to keep the old provisions in place.

Without the protections of Roe v. Wade , abortion was — and may be yet again — a risky business for the women undergoing the procedure and the men and women who perform it.

Arizona’s abortion ban didn’t stop them from happening during the roughly 100 years it was enforced. News accounts from the time instead show the law stopped many abortions from being safe.

Two systems of care for women


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