Handmaids shame House abortion bill

Protesters dressed as handmaid’s from Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” sit in protest during debate on an abortion reporting bill. The woman seated at the end of the row is the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Cave Creek). (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

PHOENIX — Protesters dressed as handmaids shouted “Shame!” at members of the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee after a 6-3 vote in favor of an abortion reporting bill.

The red dresses and white bonnets of the handmaids are from Margaret Atwood’s novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which portrays a dystopian future where women are property and have no say over their bodies. The bill they were protesting, SB 1394, was introduced by Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Cave Creek) and would require abortion providers to record extra, specific pieces of data on abortions and the women who undergo them and provide it to the state.

Currently, the state of Arizona requires that abortion providers record:

  • the name, address and county of the facility where the abortion is performed
  • The woman’s age, race, marital status and level of education
  • The county and state of residence of the woman
  • The number of prior pregnancies, abortions and spontaneous terminations
  • The gestational age of the unborn child
  • The reason for abortion, including whether the abortion is elective or due to maternal or fetal health considerations
  • The type of procedure and date of when it happened
  • Preexisting medical conditions
  • Any known medical complication
  • Whether or not the abortion was a medical emergency
  • A physician’s statement and the fetus’ weight (if applicable)
  • Whether or not the fetus or embryo was delivered alive during or after the abortion
  • Sworn statements that the fetus or embryo was not observed to be alive after the abortion
Sen. Nancy Barto (R-Cave Creek) explains her abortion reporting bill to the House Judiciary Committee. Barto claims that current statistics are too vague. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

“The way that the data is currently being presented to us in a report every year is very vague,” Barto said.

Barto’s push for clarity does away with the “whether the abortion is elective or due to maternal or fetal health considerations” reason for abortion listed above, and instead adds a set of specific answers. Additionally, the bill adds a set of specific medical complications for abortion providers to record, if they happened. They must also report to the state if they offer “informed consent” materials, and report to how many women the materials were offered to.

All of this information would then be published yearly by the Department of Health Services, with breakdowns by month, location and specific reason — as well as the number of abortions partially or wholly paid for by the state of Arizona.

She believes this data that the bill collects would be used to better target legislation in the future, though declined to elaborate on what that means or what that legislation would look like. Reps. Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) and Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson) very pointedly asked whether or not this data would lead to comprehensive sex education and low-cost birth control would be considered potential solutions to the issue of abortion.

“I think what the data shows will influence policy going forward,” Barto said. “It all helps inform the abortion picture here in Arizona.”

That picture was framed by a series of questions that while potentially illuminating, could easily be seen as an invasion of privacy. It depends on who you ask. Barto claimed that the data her bill required was typically recorded for other medical procedures.

“In your testimony, you said that this reporting is routine,” Rep. Kirsten Engel (D-Tucson) said. “That’s not my understanding.”

What was understood by everyone was that women’s health was at the center of the debate — but whether or not that community was better served through enhanced data collection or maintaining current levels of privacy was the central issue. As a component of the abortion debate, it is by no means confined to just the state of Arizona. Reporting statistics are a component of abortion regulations in a number of other states. According to president Center for Arizona Policy Cathi Herrod, the bill is comprised entirely of legislation taken from other states. She should know, since she drafted it for Barto.

“Abortion reporting requirements have been upheld by the Supreme Court to be constitutional,” Herrod said. “Clearly there is a tie to maternal health.”

But the women on the other side of the fence disagreed. Dianne Post, an Arizona lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, found that the bill’s requirement of abortion providers listing the complications could mislead those seeking an abortion by making them think that abortions are dangerous — which Post claims isn’t true.

“This bill is not about women’s health, Post said.

An amendment by committee chairman Eddie Farnsworth (R-Gilbert) eliminated the specific list of answers to the “reason for abortion” and instead replaces the original “including whether the abortion is elective or due to maternal or fetal health considerations” line. While this may take care of some of the more invasive questions that women would be asked to answer, it preserves stats that abortion providers would still be required to send in to the Department of Health Services.

Protesters dressed as handmaids shuffle out of the House Judiciary Committee hearing on abortion reporting. The committee voted 6-3 in favor of the bill. (Photo by: Erik Kolsrud/Arizona Sonora News)

This is where the handmaids take issue. The women in the costumes aren’t doing this on a lark — they are part of a group called @HANDMAIDSRESIST and have been using the imagery of Atwood’s novel to draw attention to what they see as a move closer to the dystopian vision in the novel, according to Kim Mundis, one of the protesters.

“This bill is an extreme government intrusion into a woman’s constitutional access to healthcare,” Mundis said. “This is just incremental erosion.”

Farnsworth’s amendment passed, and the bill itself received a “Do Pass” recommendation with the vote split along party lines after over an hour and a half of debate and testimony from stakeholders. The bill will next go the House Rules Committee before heading to the House floor. Passage there will then bring the bill before Gov. Doug Ducey, to be signed into law.

“Shame!” The handmaids called out to Farnsworth as he exited the hearing room.

“Yeah shame,” Farnsworth said. “Shame on you.”


Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at ekolsrud@email.arizona.edu.

2 comments Add yours
  1. Oue state legislators must be stopped from unraveling years of painfully won women’s rights to own their own reproductive health.

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