Republican lawmaker helps defeat Arizona bill banning abortion pills

One Republican in the Arizona House defected from a united GOP front on Thursday to defeat a measure that would have banned manufacturing or prescribing medication that would cause an abortion.

The bill that unexpectedly failed would have eliminated the choice used by half of the people who have abortions in the state, leaving a surgical procedure as the only option.

"Members, I am about as pro-life as they come," Rep. Michelle Udall of Mesa said as she joined all Democrats in voting against the measure. "However, in my research of some of these medications, they are used for other purposes as well.

"They’re used for women who have had a miscarriage. They’re also used to treat Cushing’s Syndrome and they have other uses," she said. "And so to criminalize making these medications and using them will hurt other people."

Republicans control 31 of 60 seats in the House and the loss of any one means a bill can’t get the needed 31 votes to pass if Democrats are united in opposition. The state has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation and Republicans in Arizona routinely enact bills targeting the procedure.

The measure could return later in the session, but Udall’s statement showed it will need major revisions if backers want it to pass.

The proposal was one of two major anti-abortion bills in the Legislature this year. The other passed the Senate last week. It would outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and awaits House action.

Of the 13,186 abortions performed in Arizona in 2020, just 636 were after 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The ban on medication abortion is sponsored by Mesa Republican Rep. Jennifer Parker. She said during a Judiciary Committee hearing last week that she understands the issue is deeply partisan and people are entrenched in their position but that she’s willing to fight the battle.

Pills accounted for 54% of all U.S. abortions, up from roughly 44% in 2019, according to a report released Thursday by the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. A state report shows slightly lower numbers, with the Department of Health Services showing 50.2% of the abortions were done with medication.

"To me, there’s no more important right than the right to live," Parker said. "And there’s nothing else without life and the chance for life."

Democrats and abortion rights advocates noted at the hearing that the ban would prevent people who suffer miscarriages from using medication to clear their body of the dead fetus, forcing them to have surgery instead.

"How is tying the hands of physicians and preventing them from providing medical care that is constitutionally protected pro-life?" Democratic Rep. Melody Hernandez said at the hearing. "How is preventing people needing miscarriage treatment in this form pro-life?"

There was no debate on the House floor Thursday as the chamber rushed to complete work on scores of bills before a mid-session deadline.

Several states are considering similar legislation to ban medication used in abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for reproductive rights. They include Alabama, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming and Washington. The Washington bill is unlikely to advance in the Democratically-led state.

Many GOP-led states are also considering a ban on mailing abortion-inducing pills, which the Food and Drug Administration allowed to be sent by mail in December. Arizona, Montana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma passed laws banning that practice last year, although courts blocked the laws in Montana and Oklahoma from taking effect.

"This is part of the decades long attack on abortion rights to make it impossible to access care in any way, shape or form," said Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute in an email. "Medication abortion is a major method of abortion and is safe and effective, so the effort to ban it is pure politics."

Among Arizona’s strict abortion laws is an automatic outlaw of the practice if the U.S. high court fully overturns Roe v. Wade, the nearly five-decade-old ruling that enshrined a nationwide right to abortion. Abortion is legal until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.

Republicans hope to put the 15-week ban in place so it takes effect quickly if the Supreme Court further limits abortion rights but stops short of fully overturning Roe. The Arizona measure closely mirrors a Mississippi law.

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