by Alia Beard Rau - Apr. 12, 2012 04:29 PM
Gov. Jan Brewer has signed a bill into law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and making numerous other changes to abortion regulations.
The new law will likely go into effect sometime in July, depending on when the Legislature ends its session.
Supporters of House Bill 2036 say it protects women and unborn children, who at this gestational age may feel pain. Opponents say it strips women and their doctors of the ability to decide how to handle situations of fetal abnormalities often discovered later in pregnancy.
"This bill is about protecting maternal health and safety," said Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who sponsored the bill. "When a woman has a later-term abortion after 20 weeks ... this exponentially increases the risk of death."
The conservative Center for Arizona Policy was behind the bill. Center president Cathi Herrod thanked Brewer for signing the bill into law.
"HB 2036 provides for the health needs of women considering an abortion, ensuring that women have all the information they need when making this life-changing decision," Herrod said in a news release. "Abortion not only ends the life of a pre-born child, but it also seriously endangers the health and safety of women."
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, has 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, 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.