House approves 15-week abortion ban, Ducey will have final say

By Gloria Gomez/UA Don Bolles Fellow/AZ Mirror

PHOENIX — A ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy was approved by a Republican majority in the House, and is on its way to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. 

Under Senate Bill 1164, a doctor who performs an abortion on a woman who is more than 15 weeks pregnant will face a class 6 felony and revoked license. Pregnancies from rape and incest must still be carried to term after that timeframe. The only exception made is for medical emergencies in which the mother is at risk of death or severe bodily harm. 

The measure follows a national trend of GOP abortion restrictions as the party anticipates federal protections will be rolled back by the U.S. Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi law that banned abortions after 15 weeks. While currently unconstitutional because Planned Parenthood v. Casey makes bans before 24 weeks illegal, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Dobbs case, bans like the one in SB1164 will stand.

The high court is widely expected to uphold Mississippi’s law.

All 31 Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the bill on Thursday, its final vote before going to the governor, who has a track record of supporting pro-life legislation. Ducey now has five business days to sign or veto SB1164. Every Democrat who was present for the vote opposed it.

No Republicans spoke about the bill during the floor vote.

Democratic lawmakers spoke vehemently against the bill, arguing that the restrictions imposed by SB1164 are contrary to women’s needs and may cause them harm.

For Rep. Melody Hernandez, one exception doesn’t account for the wide scope of complications women can encounter. The Tempe Democrat also works as a paramedic, and said one of the more common issues pregnant women can face after 15 weeks is preeclampsia. The condition occurs after 20 weeks, and is characterized by high blood pressure and damage to organs. In severe cases, women may experience seizures and abortion is sometimes recommended

The bill also fails to accommodate abortions that are part of normal healthcare treatment after an miscarriage, Hernandez said. 

Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Phoenix, noted that amniocentesis tests are often performed after 15 weeks, and are crucial for determining future challenges with the pregnancy that she said might warrant late term abortions. The tests help determine whether the fetus is viable, and identify issues like abnormal lung development or genetic conditions. Performing them before the 15-week mark can actually introduce complications

Women who choose abortion often deal with economic constraints. As much as 40% of respondents in a survey of 30 facilities over a six-year period cited financial reasons for seeking an abortion. But the bill, Hernandez pointed out, doesn’t include appropriations to support women being forced to carry unwanted children to term. 

“This bill, as pro-life in nature … does not compensate or give any maternal care, financial or otherwise, on behalf of the mother or behalf of the child,” Rep. Sarah Liguori, D-Phoenix, said. 

Placing the viability standard nine weeks earlier than the federal standard of 24 weeks puts a greater burden on women to identify pregnancies sooner. Liguori said women aren’t always able to do that, and shared that one of her friends didn’t realize she was pregnant until she was at 22 weeks. 

“Pregnancy is a journey without a roadmap. There is no normal pregnancy, there is no predictability, there is no guarantee. It may happen when you want it to, it may happen when you don’t. It may happen when you least expect it,” she said, near tears, and imploring her fellow legislators to empathize with women and vote against the bill. 

Some legislators denounced government intervention in personal medical decisions. Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, highlighted what she described as the irony between recent Republican touting of parental rights in education and the trampling of parental rights in family planning represented by the GOP-sponsored abortion bill. Government, she said, should be left firmly out of doctor’s offices.

“One of the bedrocks of the medical practice is the sanctity of the patient-doctor relationship. This is a confidential partnership to decide on appropriate treatment, and there is no place for government in the middle of that relationship,” she said. 

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, a Tempe Democrat, agreed with this view, saying governmental restrictions on women’s healthcare would only end up hurting women when they take matters into their own hands. 

“You can outlaw abortions, but you will not stop abortions. You will just make them unsafe and dangerous,” she said. 

Gloria Gomez, a senior at the University of Arizona, is the 2022 UA School of Journalism’s Don Bolles Fellow working with editors from the Arizona Mirror. Gomez has interned at the Arizona Daily Star and worked at the Arizona Daily Wildcat. She is a dual major in journalism and political science, with a Spanish minor. She’s a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The UA School of Journalism started the fellowship in 1977 to honor Don Bolles, an Arizona Republic reporter killed in a 1976 car bombing.

Pro-life and pro-choice protesters gather outside the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, 2016, to demonstrate. The court that day heard oral arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a case centering on restrictions placed on abortion clinics in Texas. Photo by Jordan Uhl | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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