PHOENIX (AP) - Republican lawmakers in Arizona failed on Wednesday to approve a sweeping abortion bill in the Senate that would have made it a felony for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy in which the fetus has a genetic abnormality after a single Republican joined Democrats in voting no.
The 14-16 vote came after Republican Rep. Tyler Pace said he could not support the bill even though he opposes abortion after voicing concerns about juries having to make medical choices about physicians’ decisions. He had worked with the GOP bill sponsor to address multiple issues he had with the legislation.
"There are moments like this where, as legislators, we just don’t know what to do," Pace told the hushed Senate chamber as he explained his no vote. "We can pass a bill that we know has errors and we hope will be fixed through the promises of some very good legislators who keep their promises, as they have. Or we don’t pass it."
The proposal backed by the social conservative Center for Arizona Policy had overcome similar opposition from one Republican House member last week. GOP Rep. Regina Cobb had said she could not back the bill because it made no provision for a woman carrying a fetus that could not survive because of a birth defect. The bill was amended to allow exceptions for those circumstances, after which she voted for the measure.
But Pace said that amendment did not allay his concerns because of how a doctor’s "reasonable medical judgment" could be outweighed by a jury.
"We’re asking a panel of lay individuals to determine medical judgment, like a board of medicine. That’s a large reach," Pace said. He also worried about required state forms that allow a woman to say she chose an elective abortion but also contain other reasons that could become illegal and put a doctor in jeopardy.
Pace had previously voted for the bill after receiving promises that it would be amended in the House to address his concerns, which also included bans on universities training doctors on abortions and related research that did end up being removed. With Republicans holding only one vote majorities in both chambers and all Democrats opposed to anti-abortion measures, the loss of one GOP member means the legislation fails.
In addition to the ban on abortions for a fetus with a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome, SB1457 also contains a ban on mail delivery of abortion-inducing medication, confers all civil rights to unborn children, allows the father or maternal grandparents of a fetus aborted due to a genetic issue to sue, and bans the spending of any state money with organizations that provide abortion care.
The measure also required fetal remains to be buried or cremated, and it forbids state universities from providing abortion care. It also repeals an old law allowing women to be charged for seeking an abortion, needed in case the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 decision that found women have a constitutional right to seek an abortion.
Center for Arizona Policy President Cathi Herrod tweeted that she was disappointed but would keep fighting to pass the legislation, and she re-sent a CAP tweet that said the group is "confident the votes will be there to pass #SB1457 this session."
Republican Sen. Nancy Barto of Phoenix, the bill sponsor, changed her vote to no, a procedural move that could allow the proposal to get another vote. But even Barto said that would be difficult.
"Obviously we have to make a choice whether to trust our colleagues or not. I’m sorry I somehow didn’t convince my colleague to put trust in me at this point," Barto said. "I don’t think it will bring this bill back.
"But there are so many things in this legislation that honors the unborn that deserve to move forward," she said. "And being a pro-life legislator, being elected on that basis, that we would honor life, that we would protect women, protect the vulnerable, I’m disappointed that we do not see every vote in the green today. "
An even tougher anti-abortion bill that would ban most abortions is apparently not moving forward after Republican Senate President Karen Fann said it was not vetted by "stakeholders" and had potential constitutional issues.
The bill would have made it a felony for a physician to perform the procedure if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. HB2140 would ban nearly all abortions because a heartbeat can often be detected as early as six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.
That proposal would clearly run afoul of U.S. Supreme Court precedent that says a woman can access abortion care before a fetus is viable. But Arizona lawmakers and Republican-dominated Legislatures in several states emboldened by the possibility that a more conservative court could overturn Roe v. Wade have embraced proposals this year that could completely ban abortion.
In South Carolina, a federal judge has already been blocked a "heartbeat bill" signed into law by the governor last month that would ban most abortions. In Idaho, lawmakers are also considering such a bill. In Arkansas, abortion rights groups have vowed to sue to block a new law banning nearly all abortions.
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