Kat Sabine, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona, received a letter from the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) on October 15. The letter stated that a complaint had been filed accusing Sabine of providing services that would require her home to be “licensed as a healthcare facility.”
The letter stated that ADHS officials may visit the “facility to validate your response,” and listed Sabine’s home address as the site of the complaint. “If you do not respond within the stated time limit or if the surveyors determine from their survey that you are not within the law, the matter will be referred to our enforcement team for appropriate action,” the letter stated.
Sabine is not a doctor, nurse or, any kind of medical professional. She heads an organization that advocates for reproductive rights in the state.
Sabine told Rewire she had received a phone call on September 29 from an official at the ADHS wanting to confirm her home address as the “offices of NARAL, an abortion provider.” She says she told the state official that it was her home address and not associated with NARAL, and that she was not a medical provider.
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“The state does not have a right to come inspect my home without a warrant, but there is a law that allows the state to inspect abortion clinics without a warrant,” said Sabine. “During the last legislative session when this law was passed I was a strong advocate fighting against this abuse of power.”
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law in April that would allow ADHS officials to conduct warrantless surprise inspections on any of the nine clinics that provide abortion services in the state. Under the new law, officials will be allowed to inspect any clinic during business hours, even if there is no reasonable cause to believe the clinic is violating regulations.
“This bill simply opens the door for abuse and does nothing to keep women safe. In fact, it’s just another harassment tool supporters are pushing to force a lawsuit,” state Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford (D-Tucson) said during a house floor debate.
The letter sent to Sabine’s home did not list the basis for the complaint or why the state believes that her home is a medical facility. The letter included a form that she was required to return to the government within ten days.
The form provided no space for her to deny the state’s allegation that her home was a health-care facility, and did not include a complete list of licensing exemptions, leaving off the statutory exception for community education and advocacy groups like NARAL.
Sabine says that her impression from dealing with the ADHS officials was that this was not an administrative error or simply some type of bureaucratic mistake. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shares her skepticism about the incident.
The ACLU sent a letter in October to the ADHS on Sabine’s behalf explaining that she was not a medical provider, that the NARAL office is not a medical facility, and that the matter should be closed and her home address be expunged from the department’s records.
Sabine, after receiving no reply, contacted state Sen. Katie Hobbs (D-Phoenix) with her concerns. Even after her state senator inquired about the inquiry, Sabine did not receive any notice from the ADHS that the matter had been resolved.
It was not until this week that the ADHS replied to the ACLU’s letter saying that the department had “closed out the complaint.”
The ACLU of Arizona released a statement Thursday that it is demanding records from ADHS that will help establish whether intimidation tactics are routinely used by the department against reproductive health service providers.
“While it may be that these errors were all innocent, the circumstantial evidence is discomfiting, and you should be aware that further harassment of Ms. Sabine could subject you to liability for abuse of process or malicious prosecution,” ACLU of Arizona Senior Counsel Dan Pochoda wrote in a response to ADHS on Sabine’s behalf.
Sabine says that the whole experience left her feeling bullied by a state government with a history of restricting reproductive rights.
“Not only are [state officials] intervening in women’s health care, they are trying to intervene on people that try to advocate on women’s behalf.”