Arizona Senate panel OKs ban on abortions for genetic problems

Arizona Legislature (file)

A proposal that would make it a felony in Arizona for a doctor to perform an abortion because the fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down Syndrome was approved by a state Senate panel on Feb. 4. The measure also adds a slew of other provisions to the state's already tough anti-abortion laws.

Republican Sen. Nancy Barto of Phoenix said her proposal protects the most vulnerable and restores dignity to aborted fetuses by requiring that they be buried or cremated. It also repeals an old law allowing women to be charged for seeking an abortion, which Barto said was 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.

"This bill will stop abortions solely based on the child’s genetic abnormalities," Barto said. "My bill also protects Arizona women. They deserve more than to have their health gambled to benefit the abortion industry’s bottom line."

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee all opposed the measure, which they said intrudes on a woman's right to make health decisions in consultation with her doctor.

"This will definitely chill that kind of medical advice because a doctor is potentially facing up to 8 years in prison for informing his patient of these abnormalities," Tucson Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel said.

Doctors who perform abortions because the mother decides she does not want to carry a child with a genetic abnormality could face between two and nearly nine years in prison. There are exceptions for medical emergencies. The proposal also confers all civil rights to unborn children, allows the father of an aborted child to sue, and bans the spending of any state money with organizations that provide abortion care, while banning state universities from providing abortion care.

Another provision bans abortion-inducing medication from being delivered by mail. Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, which pushes anti-abortion bills each year at the state Legislature, claimed medical abortions are more dangerous than surgical ones.

"There’s a nationwide push to send abortion pills through the mail," Herrod said. "Women who take chemical abortion pills are four times more likely to have complications than those that have surgical abortions."

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice group that advocates for access to safe abortions, disputes Herrod’s claim that medication abortion is more dangerous.

"The attacks we are seeing on medication abortion have nothing to do with safety, it’s about politics, as the evidence shows that the risk of complications for abortion, including medication abortion is extremely low," said Elizabeth Nash, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Planned Parenthood also opposes the bill.

"This bill is about restricting abortion care and banning abortion, and it’s not about protecting those with disabilities as the sponsor would lead us to believe," said Marilyn Rodriguez of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. She called it "a cruel attempt to yet again limit abortion, this time by targeting families who seek this option after learning their fetus has developed a disability."

The proposal is one of several introduced in the Republican-controlled Legislature this year, including one that would require prosecutors to charge women who decide to get abortions and the doctors who perform the procedures with homicide. That proposal from GOP Rep. Walt Blackman has not been assigned to a committee.

Republican-dominated Legislatures in several states who have been emboldened by the possibility that a more conservative Supreme Court could overturn the Roe decision have embraced proposals that could completely ban abortion this year.

For instance, lawmakers in South Carolina are considering a "heartbeat bill" that would effectively ban abortion because most women are unaware they are pregnant before a fetal heartbeat can be detected.