Arizona may be in line to be the seventh state in the nation to ban abortions at 20 weeks.
On a 37-22 margin Tuesday, the House approved the legislation to scrap existing law which says pregnancies can be terminated until the point of viability. That is generally considered to be in the 22-23 week range.
Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, said she would just as soon ban all abortions outright. But Yee said that, at the very least, there is evidence the current cutoff is too late.
“The medical evidence is clear that the pre-born child has developed pain sensors on their face in the seventh week of life,” she told colleagues.
“By the 20th week of life, sensory receptors have developed all over the preborn baby’s body,” Yee continued. “The densities of these receptors are the same, if not higher, than that of an adult.”
Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley, responded that the question of when a fetus can feel pain is not medically settled.
Meyer who is a doctor, said HB 2036 ignores the fact that some fetal anomalies cannot be detected and fully diagnosed until the 20th week of pregnancy. He said while the law does allow an abortion after that point if the woman’s life is in danger, there is no exception for the balance of the pregnancy for maternal health or even if it is clear the fetus lacks a brain or kidneys and cannot live.
“To force a woman to carry a fetus that has anomalies that are not compatible with life for (another) 20 weeks isn’t a decision we should be making here at the Legislature,” he said. “That’s decision for that woman to make with their physician and their family.”
With the Senate already having approved the measure, the bill now goes to Gov. Jan Brewer who has until early next week to decide what to do.
She generally does not comment on legislation until she actually signs or vetoes it. But Brewer is on record as wanting to ban all abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest. “Gov. Brewer has a strong and consistent pro-life record and will be studying this legislation closely before announcing her decision,” said Matthew Benson, her press aide.
The legislation, if signed, would make it a misdemeanor to abort a child at or after 20 weeks except in a medical emergency. Violators could be sent to jail for up to six months and have their medical licenses suspended or revoked.
The hour-long House debate often turned emotional as some lawmakers related their own experiences.
Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, detailed how he has been watching his wife’s pregnancy. He said the baby is now 29 weeks along and clearly reacts to external stimuli.
`To say that we can murder these babies after 20 weeks is unconscionable,” he said.
Inherent in the discussion was the question of birth defects and whether that should be grounds for allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy.
Rep. Terri Proud, R-Tucson, detailed how her youngest child was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease. The child is still alive.
“It has been one of the most difficult things I have ever experienced in my life,” she said.
“But let me tell you the beauty of having her,” Proud continued. “I truly believe that God gave me a new set of eyes that day when she was diagnosed.”
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, read a news story about how a baby born after just 21 weeks had survived and was about to be released from the hospital. He said there is no consensus on exactly when a fetus can survive on its own.
“If you’re going to err, you err on the side of life,” he said.
And House Speaker Andy Tobin, R-Paulden, said the issue is simple for him.
“Little people feel pain,” he said. “Little people are alive.”
Foes of the legislation focused largely on the question of whether the state should interfere in what they say should be a private -- and can be a difficult -- decision.
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, said some initial sonorgrams to spot for birth defects cannot be run before 18 weeks into the pregnancy. And the genetic tests for confirmation, he said, have to be sent to an out-of-state laboratory, with the results taking up to 10 days.
That, he said, puts women who get back those results in a bind.
“They should be given time to make that decision,” he said.
“This is a decision not for the Legislature,” Ash continued. “It is a decision that shouldn’t be rushed by legislative mandate.”
But Rep. Peggy Judd, R-Willcox, argued that maybe that 20-week cutoff will encourage more pregnant women to get early prenatal care and tests. And Judd said she is undisturbed by the possibility of the new deadline resulting in more children born with defects.
“These special infants that come into our homes give us a unique opportunity to learn selfless love and they teach us to serve our fellow men,” she said.
“We must not seek to remove these children from our lives,” Judd continued. “The opportunity to care for, raise and teach these special children who are literally angels among us may be the last bastion we have in our society for this kind of love learning.”
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, told his colleagues that if they are so willing to deal with children with health problems they should restore the funding for programs for the developmentally disabled and KidsCare which provides health care for the children of the working poor. But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it was “nonsensical” to say that cuts in state spending should mean Arizona should permit more abortions to occur.
In a prepared statement, Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said this bill is part of an “unprecedented attack on Arizona women and their health care.”