April 13, 2012 — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) on Thursday signed into law a bill (HB 2036) that includes several abortion restrictions, including a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of gestation in nearly all cases and other limits on abortion, Reuters reports (Schwartz, Reuters, 4/12). The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature ends its session, which is expected to occur this month (Beard Rau, Arizona Republic, 4/12).
Under the law, the state will define gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman's last menstrual cycle, rather than at fertilization, which occurs about two weeks later (Yarrow, Daily Beast, 4/12). 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" (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/11).
Medication Abortion Restrictions
While the 20-week ban has been the most widely debated provision, a section of the law restricting medication abortion likely will have the broadest effect on women seeking abortion care in Arizona, according to the Daily Beast (Daily Beast, 4/12). The legislation bans physicians from prescribing medication abortion drugs after seven weeks of gestation (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/11). Medication abortion, which typically is used within the first nine weeks of gestation, accounts for about 17% to 20% of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. By comparison, about 1% of abortions are performed after 20 weeks.
The law also mandates that abortion providers have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the procedure takes place. Women use medication abortion drugs in homes, as well as at in clinics, which might not be within 30 miles of a hospital, noted Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. According to Nash, the medication abortion provision in the law is based on outdated protocols, which could confuse providers and prevent proper use of the drugs (Daily Beast, 4/12).
The measure also increases the current state requirement that a woman receive an ultrasound one hour before an abortion to 24 hours. In addition, the state must create a website showing the various stages of fetal development and describing the risks of abortion, as well as contact information for adoption agencies (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/11).
Other provisions of the law stipulate that public school sex education classes prioritize birth and adoption, and that abortion clinics post signs warning against abortion coercion. It also mandates that women undergo counseling if they are seeking an abortion because of fetal abnormalities. If an abnormality would be fatal to the fetus, the counseling must include information about perinatal hospice care. The law also affirms existing abortion restrictions, such as notarized parental consent for minors seeking abortion care.
Jordan Goldberg of the Center for Reproductive Rights said the group is reviewing the legislation and considering a possible court challenge by abortion providers. Under the measure, the "women of Arizona can't access medical treatment that other women can," she said.
Nash said the law is a mishmash of elements from other states' bills, adding that much of the language seems to come from the group Americans United for Life. "The point is to make it so difficult to provide abortions that no one will do it," Nash said (Daily Beast, 4/12).