Insisting they will be protecting women's lives, the state House voted Tuesday to allow state health officials to make unannounced inspections at abortion clinics without first getting any sort of warrant.
The 34-22 vote for HB 2284 came after close to an hour of debate about whether the legislation is needed and whether it is even legal. In the end the majority concluded there was no reason for the special requirement for the Department of Health Services to get consent or a warrant for an abortion clinic when it does not need to do that for any other health facility.
“I call this bill 'The Women's Health Protection Act,'” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, who is sponsoring the measure crafted by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. Lesko called it “amazing” that only abortion clinics have managed to escape having unannounced inspections.
“Why would an abortion clinic, and why would Planned Parenthood fight so much against this common-sense bill?” she asked. “What is it that they have to hide?”
Rep. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, said the answer is the fact that abortion, more than any other legal medical procedure, has become “highly politicized.” He said that is why the U.S. Supreme Court has, in many rulings, carved out special privacy protections for those both performing the procedure and having it done.
“Some of us may not like this constitutionally protected right,” Mendez said. “But abortion services require a heightened sense of privacy specifically because of bills like this and the extremist agenda where they come from.”
Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, defended the legislation as the government performing its role of protecting women and children.
“You think back to some of the abortion providers that have been convicted of serious crimes against the most vulnerable among us, against women, against mothers and against children who are born alive,” he said. Olson said he was specifically referring to Dr. Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor who cut the spines of babies after botched abortions.
“Is this not a priority of the state to ensure that this does not occur in Arizona?” he asked colleagues.
But that brought an angry reaction from Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, one of a handful of Republicans who refused to go along with the GOP majority.
“It is patently unfair and not realistic to assume there is a Pennsylvania abortion clinic going on in this state,” she said. “Far from it.”
And Brophy McGee said if lawmakers are determined to adopt the measure, they should also identify how they intend to pay the legal fees for the lawsuit virtually certain to follow.
“This is in recognition of the fact that our resources are finite and we want to spend those monies the best way we know how to benefit all our vulnerable citizens, including the born as well as the unborn,” she said.
Lesko said this isn't just about what happens elsewhere. She cited the 1998 death of Lou Ann Herron, who died during a botched abortion.It was that incident that led lawmakers the following year to vote to start licensing and inspecting abortion clinics. That law also included the provision for unannounced inspections.
But in a 2004 ruling the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down what it called “boundless, warrantless search of physicians' offices” as violating constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Lesko said the state's regulatory landscape has changed since then and she believes the provision now would be upheld.
But Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said a consent decree signed by the state after that 2004 ruling remains in place. It requires either consent or a warrant issued by an administrative law judge.
Howard predicted new litigation should the measure, which now goes to the Senate, get signed into law by the governor.