State Lawmakers Move Bill to Curb Abortion Rights
By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- State lawmakers took the first steps Thursday to curbing abortion rights in Arizona if the U.S. Supreme Court gives them the go-ahead to do so.
SB 1164, approved on a 5-3 party-line vote by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, would make it a felony to abort a fetus -- called an "unborn human being'' in the measure -- beyond the 15th week of pregnancy except in cases of "medical emergency.'' Doctors who violate the law could face a year in state prison and loss of their medical license, though there would be no penalty on a woman who obtained the procedure.
The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, as well as many who testified all made it clear they oppose abortion at any stage. But that hasn't been an option since the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and subsequent rulings which have said women have a right to choose prior to a fetus being viable.
What has changed is that the high court is now weighing a 15-week ban approved by Mississippi lawmakers. The justices could use that case to overturn Roe, in which case the state's own abortion ban, which dates to territorial days, could once again be enforced.
SB 1164, however, is a contingency plan in case the court simply affirms the Mississippi law but leaves Roe in place. It would put a statute on the books that would immediately take effect.
Thursday's debate featured what have been pretty much the same arguments that have been made in every abortion measure heard since Roe.
"Obstetricians know that later-term abortions correlate with multiple risks to a woman's health,'' testified Dr. Allan Sawyer, past president of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He said SB 1164 would reduce the risk of maternal trauma and hemorrhage.
"Relationship failure, hemorrhaging, cervical or uterine damage, depression, anxiety, PTSD, suicidal thoughts, alcohol and drug use are all potential physical, psychological and emotional side effects of having an abortion,'' said Rachel Van Hosen who works for Crisis Pregnancy Center in Phoenix. Van Hosen, who had a legal abortion as a minor -- she said got permission from a court in lieu of parental consent -- said she experienced many of them herself, "none of which were told to me.''
But Monica Schutz told lawmakers she and her husband have a genetic defect that produces fetuses that have abnormalities that cannot be detected early in the pregnancy, fetuses that have no chance of survival. Banning abortions at 15 weeks, she said, would endanger her life and sharply reduce the chance of getting pregnant again and trying for a healthy child.
And Harlie Jackson spoke of her own decision at age 18 to have an abortion "because I knew I was not mentally, physically or economically able to raise a child.''
Much of the debate, however, focused on what would happen if abortion after 15 weeks no longer is a legal option in Arizona.
"As long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions,'' said Marilyn Rodriguez who lobbies for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.
Even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, all that will do is return the decisions about abortions to individual states. And several already are positioned to keep the procedure legal.
The Center for Reproductive Rights says that the California Supreme Court recognized the legal right to abortion in 1969, four years before Roe.
Nevada voters approved a measure in 1990 protecting the legal right to abortion. And other states ranging from Washington to New York have statutes allowing women to terminate their pregnancies.
"Now, folks with privilege like you and me ... will always have the means to travel abroad to places where abortion is safe and legal, when and if we need it,'' Rodriguez told legislators.
"The bill in front of you will decide whether those without the means will be forced to carry a pregnancy to term against their will or to seek unsafe, back-alley methods of terminating pregnancy,'' she continued, calling the measure "cruel.'' But Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said that's looking at it from the wrong perspective.
"What we've seen in the 49 years that abortion has been legal in this country (is) that abortion has been moved from the back alley to inside the abortion clinic,'' she said. And she said claims that women will die from illegal abortions has been "widely debunked.''
Barto had her own take on the issue, saying there is no "safe option'' for abortion.
"It's not safe for the baby,'' she said. "We know that.''
Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, also said she sees it from that perspective.
"Who are we, as a nation, if we don't give voice to the unborn, to the unprotected, to the child that has no voice, who wishes to be born and has no power in that equation to have that choice to be born,'' she said.
But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, restricting abortion access doesn't advance the health of Arizona women. He said that's not just his view but also that of the federal judge in Mississippi who ruled that state's law illegal who called lawmakers there "hypocritical, pretending to care about women's health and the well-being of the unborn and people of color while tolerating poverty, maternal death rates and curtailing health-care programs like Medicaid.'' And Quezada said lawmakers here should be heeding that advice.
"We should be focused on that,'' he said. "Government should not be preventing a woman from making a decision about her own body for herself.''
The legislation, which now needs full Senate approval before going to the House, would affect fewer than 5% of all abortions.
In 2020, the most recent year for which figures are available, the Arizona Department of Health Services reporters there were 13,186 abortions performed on state residents. Of that total, just 636 were beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy. Even some foes of the measure concede there are probably the votes for the measure, with the Republican-controlled legislature having a history of approving bills all designed to restrict the process as much as they think they legally can.
That includes a 2012 bid to outlaw abortion at 20 weeks which was declared unconstitutional by a federal appeals court and, just last year, an outright ban on abortions based on fetal genetic defects which also has been enjoined. And Gov. Doug Ducey has signed every abortion restriction that has reached his desk.
There is a separate measure, HB 2483, introduced by Rep. Teresa Martinez, R-Casa Grande, which would create a Texas-style "heartbeat'' abortion ban. It would allow any individual to sue doctors or even those who aid a woman to get an abortion and be able to collect $10,000 penalties.
So far, though, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, has not assigned that measure to any committee for a hearing. And Herrod told Capitol Media Services that while she supports all efforts to restrict abortion, it is the Barto bill she is backing.
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