Flagstaff Proposes Decriminalizing Abortion Law Violations

February 28, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

The city of Flagstaff is proposing to effectively decriminalize abortion. The proposed resolution is listed currently on the draft agenda for next week’s planned formal meeting. 

The resolution would permit Flagstaff police to deprioritize alleged violations of abortion crimes by referring them to the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), and by not arresting the alleged offenders.

“The City Council supports the Flagstaff Police Department in establishing law enforcement priorities that consider the need to protect the physical, psychological, and socioeconomic wellbeing of pregnant persons and their care providers,” stated the resolution. “The City Council supports the Flagstaff Police Department in establishing policies that require a report of an alleged violation of [statute] that is reported to have taken place at a medical facility, be referred to the Arizona Department of Health Services for investigation and that no physical arrest be made by the Flagstaff Police Department.”

The resolution also opposed A.R.S. §§ 36-2321 through 2326 specifically, which outline bans on abortions after 15 weeks gestation except in the cases of medical emergencies, as well as “all provisions of Arizona law criminalizing abortion.” The council petitioned the legislature to repeal all laws criminalizing abortion. 


As justification for its position, the council’s resolution cited the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ claim that abortion bans harm women’s health. The council claimed that pregnancy has a 14 times higher risk of death than abortion. It also cited statistics indicating that rural area, minority, and lower-income women more often rely on abortion and therefore will be disproportionately impacted by it.

The proposed resolution arose out of a citizen petition submitted to the council last August by the Flagstaff Abortion Alliance. Vice Mayor Austin Aslan, at the time still a member of the council, advanced the petition. According to Women’s March Flagstaff, the city plans to implement stronger protections for abortionists and women obtaining abortions, such as restrictions on surveillance, arrest, and prosecution, in the near future. 

Only Councilwoman Lori Matthews opposed the resolution at last week’s meeting. She broke it to the many pro-abortion activists present at the meeting that the city couldn’t truly protect citizens from abortion laws. Matthews stated that there were other pressing issues that the council should be facing, but that it was caught up in this issue of resisting current law. 

“The Flagstaff City Council cannot change the law and we cannot protect your right to abortion,” said Matthews. “[W]e can only make a politically charged statement.” 

Matthews added that those supportive of the resolution seemed to not understand that current state law doesn’t ban all abortions, just those following 15 weeks gestation. She further alluded that the council shouldn’t support a resolution that would contradict their oath of office: upholding state law.

“We cannot pass an ordinance protecting abortion rights, so why are we talking about this very politically and emotionally charged issue just to make a political statement that clearly doesn’t represent the community as a whole?” said Matthews. “We took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, to uphold the state constitution, and its laws. And until those laws change, we have to abide by them because that’s the oath of office we take.” 

The council cited the cities of Tucson and Phoenix as inspiration for their resolution to effectively decriminalize abortion. 

Tucson decriminalized abortion last June, shortly after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) draft opinion leaked revealing their overturning of Roe v. Wade through the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. About a month earlier, Pima County Attorney Laura Conover promised to not give jail time to those seeking or assisting abortions.

Phoenix followed Tucson months later, decriminalizing abortion last October. 

The discrepancy between state law and both local and state leadership is more evident following the midterm election. Last week, Attorney General Kris Mayes joined a multistate lawsuit against the FDA in an attempt to remove restrictions on the abortion pill, mifepristone. Arizona signed onto the lawsuit with Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Delaware, Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont, New Mexico, Michigan, and Rhode Island. 

Mayes and the other attorneys general claimed that mifepristone is safer than Tylenol. The FDA restricts mifepristone and 59 drugs under the Risk Evaluation & Mitigation Strategies (REMS). Other drugs under these restrictions include opioids like fentanyl and high-dose sedatives. Mayes cited FDA assessment that serious complications with mifepristone are rare. Mifepristone can cause bacterial infections and prolonged, heavy menstrual bleeding.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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