Republican lawmakers revive sweeping anti-abortion proposal in Arizona

Maria Polletta
Arizona Republic
Senate Bill 1457 could return to the House and Senate floors as soon as Wednesday for a final vote before it heads to Gov. Doug Ducey's desk.

Contentious legislation that would criminalize abortions based on genetic abnormalities and grant personhood rights to fetuses appears headed for passage, after the sole GOP lawmaker to oppose the bill changed his position. 

Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, had temporarily sunk the sweeping Senate Bill 1457 earlier this month when he joined Democrats in voting "no" on the Senate floor. But after reviving the legislation through a series of procedural maneuvers, the bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Nancy Barto of Phoenix, brokered a compromise. 

Pace's unease primarily centered on a provision making it a class 6 felony to perform an abortion based on genetic conditions such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, something Barto said was essential for protecting Arizona's most vulnerable. 

Though the legislation allowed exceptions for severe fetal abnormalities, Pace argued the bill did not define those abnormalities clearly. If abortions were prosecuted under the proposed law, he said, laypeople on juries could be asked to determine whether doctors had exercised reasonable medical judgment — "a large reach," in his opinion.  

Another provision conferring all Arizona "rights, privileges and immunities" to fetuses at any stage of development raised additional concerns about the future legality of in vitro fertilization procedures.

Pace proposed three changes, which were adopted Monday by a joint committee convened to negotiate a new version of the bill, in exchange for his support.

Narrower definitions, IVF exemptions

Under Pace's amendment, the class 6 felony charge will apply only if a person performs an abortion knowing it was sought solely because of a genetic abnormality.

Instead of exempting "severe fetal abnormalities," it exempts "lethal fetal conditions," already defined in state law as conditions "diagnosed before birth and that will result, within reasonable certainty, in the death of the unborn child within three months after birth."

"I feel very comfortable that a physician, with reasonable certainty, could determine whether or not the child has a condition that would lead to the death of the unborn child within three months after the birth," Pace said during Monday's hearing. "I find that to be very, very specific, compared to the alternative."

The senator also added a provision explicitly exempting IVF procedures from liability. He said he was "very grateful" for the opportunity to "clarify that and make sure that anybody who was worried that this might have affected that, that that is removed."

Pace's revisions will have no effect on the bill's remaining provisions, which:

  • Create a penalty of up to $10,000 for professionals who fail to report abortions performed based on genetic abnormalities.
  • Prohibit public educational institutions from performing abortions unless the procedure is necessary to save a woman's life.
  • Forbid the mailing or delivery of abortion-inducing drugs, which doctors also use to manage miscarriages.
  • Prevent public money from supporting research involving abortions or embryo transfers.
  • Require fetal remains to be buried or cremated. 
  • Mandate that medical facilities that perform abortions submit paperwork to the state detailing, for each termination, whether the facility detected a genetic abnormality and how officials had disposed of the remains.

Opponents: Revisions don't address key concerns

Various OB-GYNs had come forward to oppose the bill as it made its way through the Legislature, testifying that they would be afraid of providing pregnant patients comprehensive information about their choices.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, also charged GOP leaders with caring about protecting children with disabilities only until they were born. 

Several faith leaders spoke out against the personhood provision as well, arguing that "one group's interpretation of scripture or personal beliefs, no matter how strongly held, should not be legislated over others."

On Monday, the joint committee's two Democratic members contended Pace's revisions did not remedy those problems. They also worried the bill would penalize a woman who took an abortion-inducing drug at home, essentially performing her own abortion. 

But they were outvoted by the committee's four Republicans. 

"This entire bill is taking away from a woman and her doctor the right to make these critical decisions about when to perform an abortion," Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said. "We are, with all due respect, way out of our league."

Senate Bill 1457 could return to the House and Senate floors as soon as Wednesday for a final vote.

Reach the reporter at Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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