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Ariz. 20-Week Abortion Ban Goes To Gov. Brewer

Ariz. 20-Week Abortion Ban Goes To Gov. Brewer

April 11, 2012 — The Arizona House on Tuesday voted 37-22 to approve a bill (HB 2036) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation in nearly all cases, the AP/U-T San Diego reports. The bill, which has already passed the Senate, now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer (R) for consideration (Davenport, AP/U-T San Diego, 4/10). Brewer has five days to sign it, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature. If enacted, the measure would take effect this summer.

The bill would impose several other restrictions, including banning physicians from prescribing medication abortion drugs after seven weeks of gestation and increasing the current state requirement that a woman receive an ultrasound one hour before an abortion to 24 hours. The bill also would direct the state to create a website showing various stages of fetal development and describing risks of abortion, as well as contact information for adoption agencies.

Current Arizona law permits abortion until viability, which medical experts generally consider to be around 22 to 24 weeks. Beyond viability, abortion is permitted to protect the "life or health of the woman," although the law does not define health (Beard Rau, Arizona Republic, 4/11). Under the bill, abortion after 20 weeks would be allowed if continuing the pregnancy would result in the woman's death or "create [a] serious risk substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function," which would be determined by a physician's "good faith clinical judgment" (Schwartz, Reuters, 4/10).

Parties Split in Vote

Tuesday's vote went against typical party lines, with some Democrats backing the bill and some Republicans voting against it. Supporters of the bill claimed that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, while opponents said the measure would restrict women and doctors' options when fetal abnormalities are detected later in pregnancy (Arizona Republic, 4/11).

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the bill "completely prevents couples from making their own decisions about how to deal with the heartbreaking situation when a pregnancy is determined to involve serious health complications." Howard added that the bill could dissuade doctors from practicing in Arizona.

If the bill becomes law, Arizona would join six other states with measures banning abortion after 20 weeks based on the disputed "fetal pain" theory. Brewer has not said how she will react to the bill, but a spokesperson noted that she has a "strong and consistent pro-life record" (Reuters, 4/10).

Last year, about 200 women obtained abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Arizona, according to the Center for Arizona Policy, the conservative group behind the bill. That figure represents less than 2% of abortions in the state each year, the Arizona Republic reports (Arizona Republic, 4/11).