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For JFCS Clients, Abortion Restrictions Can Add to Trauma

Reproductive rights have been a key topic of discussion for clients of Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona (JFCS) since June 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion that had been law since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, says Lily Hanscom, director of clinical services at JFCS.

“We’ve heard numerous clients talk about feeling a loss of autonomy over their bodies, a loss of power,” she says, explaining that this is particularly significant because the majority of JFCS counseling clients have already experienced some kind of trauma in their lives.

“One of the things that we’re often working with clients to do is to empower them and provide them with autonomy,” Hanscom explains. “For clients to feel like that is being stripped away from them again, against their will, is pretty scary. It’s pretty traumatic for them.”

In fact, 97% of JFCS counseling patients are treated for trauma related to crime, says JFCS President and CEO Carlos A. Hernández, citing the agency’s 2023 annual report.

“We’re a trauma-informed organization so we always look at people’s needs through a trauma lens,” says Hernández, whether clients have come to the agency because they are experiencing psychological distress, have medical problems, or lack housing or other resources.

On April 9, the Arizona Supreme Court voted to uphold an 1864 law that bans virtually all abortions, except to save the mother’s life, with no exceptions for rape or incest. On April 24, the Arizona House of Representatives voted to repeal the 1864 law, and on May 1, the Arizona Senate also voted for repeal. Gov. Katie Hobbs, who with Attorney General Kris Mayes launched a reproductive health website to provide Arizonans with up-to-date information, is expected to sign the bill.

With the 1864 ban repealed, Arizona law reverts to a 2022 statute that allows abortions up to 15 weeks, or beyond that if there is a medical emergency.

Before the repeal, many JFCS clients expressed concern about the 1864 law going into effect.

“We’ve heard a lot of fear,” Hanscom says, “a lot of people talking about that they don’t know what they would do in that situation, whether they would be able to access services, whether their family would be able to – if they had to leave the state for services what would that financially look like.”

(l/r) – Lily Hanscom (Director of Clinical Services), Carlos Hernandez (President & CEO)

Hernández notes that “lower-income people in particular are affected by this because if you are well-off financially, you’ll be able to perhaps go across state lines to get an abortion.” He adds that more than 70% of JFCS clients are low-income.

“Regardless of anybody’s position on abortion and reproductive rights,” if a client shares with JFCS that they want an abortion, he says, “we have to help them address that.  Do we help them deal with it on an emotional level or do we help them figure out a way to get an abortion if that’s what they choose to do?”

The answer has been yes to both questions. JFCS is a behavioral health agency, not a medical provider, so it has partnered with other agencies such as the YWCA to help clients access reproductive health care.

“We’re trusted in the community as a place where they can talk about these needs,” Hernández says.

But JFCS doesn’t just refer clients elsewhere, he says. “We welcome them in to help develop strategies.”

Many JFCS clients “come from a place where they haven’t had much help, they’ve been isolated and vulnerable and traumatized repeatedly throughout their lives,” he says. JFCS aims to help them develop connections with people who can fill that void, “because we can’t always be there for them for the long term.”

JFCS can be reached at (520) 795-0300.