Legislation bans most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy
by Alia Beard Rau - Apr. 10, 2012 01:02 PM
The Republic | azcentral.com
The Arizona House has given final legislative approval to a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and make numerous other changes to abortion regulations.
House Bill 2036 now goes to the governor. Gov. Jan Brewer has five days to sign it into law, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law. If it becomes law, it would go into effect this summer.
The vote was emotional, and not along party lines. Rep. Catherine Miranda, a Democrat, was among those who voted for the bill, as was Rep. Michelle Ugenti, a Republican. But Rep. Cecil Ash, another Republican, voted against the bill.
Supporters said the bill protects women and unborn children, who at this gestational age may feel pain. Opponents said it strips women and their doctors of the ability to decide how to handle situations of fetal abnormalities that are often discovered later in pregnancy.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, said her vote for the bill came down to one question.
"Is the baby inside a woman's body a human?" Lesko asked. "My answer, I believe, is yes. It is unacceptable to end the life of a human."
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, called the bill bad policy. He said women faced with a fetal abnormality at 20 weeks need time to make their own decisions.
"This bill crosses the line from setting policy to practicing medicine," said Ash, who said he supports efforts like establishing waiting times, informed consent and full disclosure for women seeking abortions. "Most women who have reached the 20th week or fifth month of pregnancy have already made the decision in favor of life."
The bill would make numerous changes to abortion laws, including banning abortions after 20 weeks except in a "medical emergency," allowing doctors to prescribe medication abortion pills only through the seventh week of pregnancy and requiring clinics to perform an ultrasound 24 hours before an abortion instead of the current requirement of an hour before.
It also would set up several new requirements: Clinics must post signs saying it is against the law to coerce a woman into having an abortion, physicians must provide additional information about health risks, and the state must create a website with abortion health risks, contact information for adoption agencies and photos or drawings of developing fetuses.
Current law allows abortions up until the point of viability, when a fetus could reasonably survive on its own outside the womb. That's considered by many medical experts and abortion clinics to be from 22 to 24 weeks. The law allows abortions beyond that to protect the "life or health of the woman" but doesn't define health.
According to the Center for Arizona Policy, the conservative advocacy group behind the bill, about 200 Arizona women who were more than 20 weeks pregnant got an abortion in 2011. That's about 2 percent of the approximately 11,000 abortions a year in the state.
Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, a physician, voted against the bill."This bill sets into statute a standard of care, which I think is the first time we've ever done that as a Legislature," he said. "We're telling physicians what the standards of care is and then mandating punishment if they don't follow that standard of care."
He said many fetal anomalies can't be determined until an ultrasound is conducted at 18 or 20 weeks of pregnancy.
"Women that go to have those ultrasound are not looking to have an abortion," he said. "They are going in hopes that everything will be normal. But in a few cases, anomalies are found that are not comparable with life."
He said those are always tough decisions, for the physician and the patient.
"To force a woman to carry a fetus that has anomalies that are not compatible with life for another 20 weeks is not a decision we should be making here at the Legislature," he said. "That is a decision for that woman to make with her physician and her family."
Rep. Peggy Judd, R-Willcox, and Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, spoke of the value of children born with disabilities.
"These special individuals give us an opportunity to learn selfless love," Judd said. "We must not seek to remove these individuals from our lives."
Miranda said her decision to support the bill was a oral one.
"All of us have to answer to our constituents ever two years," she said. "But ultimately, after we leave this legislature, all of us must answer to a higher authority.'
Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said she is pro-life but voted against the bill.
"I do not believe in abortions. But it is wrong for us legislators to make decisions for women and their right to manage and have control over their own bodies," she said. "I don't believe we should be in the business of legislating our own moral values to every citizen of the state."
Ugenti, who described herself as "very, very pro-life," voted against the bill. She said her daughter was diagnosed with a birth defect diagnosed at 20 weeks. They chose to have the baby and she said she is doing well now.
"I think of people diagnosed with more devastating illnesses," she said. "In their darkest hour, in their moment of complete despair, is that where we should be telling families and women and husbands what to do?"
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, said yes.
"I can't fathom anybody protecting murder after 20 weeks," he said.