Fate of sweeping anti-abortion measure is now in the hands of Gov. Doug Ducey

Maria Polletta
Arizona Republic
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey

A sweeping anti-abortion bill that one OB-GYN called "unconstitutional, medically unsound and dangerous" is now in the hands of Gov. Doug Ducey, a "proudly pro-life" Republican who has never vetoed an abortion measure. 

After months of debate and a series of last-ditch procedural maneuvers, the contentious Senate Bill 1457 passed out of the House and Senate on party-line votes Thursday and awaits action from Ducey.

The legislation's central provision criminalizes abortions performed solely based on genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, exposing providers who terminate such pregnancies to a class 6 felony charge. 

Sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, says the bill fulfills legislators' duty to "protect Arizona's most vulnerable patients." But reproductive rights advocates contend she used the disability community as a pawn to jam through several other controversial provisions.

Those provisions include giving a fetus at any stage of development "all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of Arizona" and requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains. 

The legislation also forbids the mailing or delivery of abortion-inducing drugs, which doctors sometimes use to manage miscarriages. It prohibits public educational institutions from performing abortions unless the procedure is necessary to save a woman's life.

And it prevents public money from supporting research involving abortions or embryo transfers.

Ducey is a longtime supporter of abortion restrictions

Thursday's floor votes immediately prompted advocacy groups to issue competing pleas to Ducey. 

Ruth Harlow, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said the governor "must veto" what she described as "a blatant attempt to push abortion care out of reach under the guise of protecting people with disabilities."

The National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona echoed the ACLU's position.

The national Susan B. Anthony List, meanwhile, thanked Barto, Arizona anti-abortion lobbyist Cathi Herrod and "all our pro-life allies who have worked tirelessly to advance this legislation" and encouraged Ducey to "swiftly sign (Senate Bill 1457) into law.”

One family's story:Could they ask their baby to suffer to avoid abortion?

Herrod's Center for Arizona Policy celebrated the bill making it to the governor, saying it would "save pre-born babies and protect women the day it goes into effect."

Ducey so far has declined to share his opinion on the specifics of the legislation, saying only: "I remain pro-life." But he has a record of approving every anti-abortion bill that makes it to his desk.

He has signed measures:

  • Requiring doctors to ask women if the pregnancies they want to terminate resulted from sexual assault, sex trafficking or domestic violence.
  • Barring women from buying any health care plan that includes abortion coverage through the federal marketplace.
  • Requiring doctors to take additional measures to "maintain the life" of any fetus delivered alive during an abortion, even if the fetus has no chance of survival.
  • Restricting a charitable-giving program for state employees, prohibiting donations to Planned Parenthood.
  • Requiring abortion providers in Arizona to tell women they can reverse the effects of a medical abortion. 
  • Banning medication-induced abortions after seven weeks of pregnancy, a law later repealed to comply with federal guidelines.

The governor's only stated deal breaker so far: anti-abortion bills that don't allow for exceptions when a woman's life is in danger or when a pregnancy results from rape or incest.

Familiar arguments in debate

Senate Bill 1457's fate was sealed before the House and Senate cast their votes on Thursday, as Barto had secured a compromise with the sole GOP lawmaker who opposed an earlier version of the bill.

Revisions protecting those who perform abortions involving "lethal fetal conditions" or procedures related to in vitro fertilization brought Sen. Tyler Pace, R-Mesa, on board.

But that didn't stop lawmakers on either side of the aisle from delivering impassioned monologues for a combined two hours.

Democrats called the legislation extreme and unconstitutional, saying it would threaten the doctor-patient relationship, in turn jeopardizing women's health. They pointed to a host of medical associations that opposed the measure and slammed Republicans for failing to provide for children with genetic abnormalities after they are born. 

"Look at how we pay and train caregivers, how we treat people in long term care facilities and how we've been willing to put people with disabilities at the back of the line as we deal with COVID austerity," said Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, arguing that, "as a society, we do not value disabled lives."  

"The spina bifida bill I introduced this year went nowhere because of the price tag," she said. "This is what a pregnant person sees as they face this decision, as they weigh the impact of this diagnosis, as they wonder: Who will protect this child after I am gone? This bill does nothing to ensure the health and well-being of children born with disabilities."

Republicans, on the other hand, said the bill would help prevent "modern day eugenics" by ensuring equal treatment for babies with genetic abnormalities. The life of an unborn child matters just as much as the life of its mother, they said.

They also claimed Democrats had conflated health care with murder: One senator called abortion care "euthanasia," while a representative said any doctor who "intentionally kills their patients should lose their license."

Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, did agree with his Democratic counterparts that the state should "spend more money on making sure families who have children with disabilities are being taken care of and helped."

"But to think that since we don't have the adequate funding for that yet, that murdering a child is OK … that, to me, I do not agree with," he said. 

The governor has five days to act on the bill, excluding Sunday. 

Reach the reporter at maria.polletta@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.