By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services
PHOENIX -- Brushing aside questions of legality and religion, a House panel voted Wednesday along party lines to imprison doctors who terminate a pregnancy solely because the fetus has a genetic defect.
SB 1457 was promoted by at least some of its supporters because it preclude women being able to get pills for chemical abortions by mail, without first seeing a doctor and having a medical examination.
Dr. Lance Holeman. who practices obstetrics and gynecology, told members of the House Judiciary Committee that about 2% of pregnancies are ectopic, meaning the fertilized egg has settled in somewhere outside the uterus. He said that a woman, seeking to terminate such a pregnancy without first getting a medical exam, would not know that fact.
More to the point, Holeman said she would not only find the drugs ineffective but actually could put her own life at risk.
But that language actually is only a small part of the legislation that is designed to give equal rights to an "unborn child'' and seek to protect it in the name of preventing discrimination. And it would do that by sending doctors to prison for at least 2 1/2 years for performing an abortion knowing that the reason the woman is terminating the pregnancy because of a genetic abnormality.
It also would give the woman's husband or even the woman's own parents the right to sue on behalf of the unborn child.
The 6-4 vote came even after Holeman, who said he does not perform abortions, urged legislators to eliminate those provisions.
"I'm certainly not in favor of criminalizing the doctor-patient relationship,'' he told them.
Even House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, expressed concern about new criminal penalties. But that did not preclude him from supporting the measure.
Had he opposed it, SB 1457 would have died on a 5-5 tie vote.
The bill was crafted by the Center for Arizona Policy which has been at the forefront of multiple measures to outlaw or restrict the ability of a woman to terminate a pregnancy. It was being carried by Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix.
"What we're trying to do is protect those that are most vulnerable in the womb,'' she said.
"And right now, it's those with disabilities,'' Barto continued. "They're being singled out and targeted.''
But Rep. Melody Hernandez, D-Phoenix, said it's not that simple. It starts, she said, with the measure adopting the "one specific religious view'' into law.
SB 1457 has verbiage to say that an "unborn child at every stage of development (has) all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state.''
"It goes to the idea of when life begins,'' Hernandez said. "Different religions have different ideas of when life begins and different ideas of how we should approach those discussions.''
Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, disagreed.
"It's not really a religious issue,'' she said.
"It's a scientific issue,'' Parker continued. "And we should be allowed to bring up science that supports when life begins even if it's inconvenient for certain agendas.''
Then there are the legal questions.
In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, affirmed the right of a woman to abort a child, at least before viability. That has been affirmed several times, though the justices have allowed states to impose regulations, but generally only those designed to protect maternal health.
Denise Burke, an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian-based law practice that opposes abortion, said four other states already have laws similar to what is in SB 1457.
She acknowledged, however, that none of these have made it to the nation's high court. And Burke told legislators that there may need to be more states that enact such laws to get the issue before the justices.
That bothered Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix.
"As an attorney and a legislator, I do not subscribe to the tactic of passing bills simply to litigate them,'' he said.
CAP President Cathi Herrod pointed out that Arizona already has a similar law on the books: a 2011 statute that bans abortion based on the race or gender of the child.
That was, in fact, challenged in federal court. But the case was thrown out because a judge ruled that the organizations that sued -- the National Asian Pacific Women's Forum and American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the NAACP -- had no legal right to bring the case absent evidence that any specific woman had been denied an abortion.
A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said her organization will not perform an abortion on any woman who tells them she is seeking the procedure because of gender or race.
Hernandez reacted angrily to the whole concept that men, who dominate the committee, "are able to legislate what we decide to do with our bodies.''
"Why are we allowing misogynistic bills to come through this legislature?'' she asked.
"This is my body, my choice, just like everyone wants to talk about whether they want to wear a mask,'' Hernandez said. "This is my choice to decide on what I do with my medical care.''
The measure, which had cleared the Senate earlier this month on a 16-14 party-line vote, now needs approval of the full House.