Lawmakers spar over sweeping anti-abortion bill

Posted on March 22, 2012, March 22, 2012 by Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) — Republicans and Democrats in the Senate sparred Thursday over sweeping anti-abortion legislation that generally bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and institutes new disclosure requirements, including one that requires women to look at a state-run website with images of fetuses at two-week intervals.

During debate by the full chamber Thursday, Senate Democrats offered a number of unsuccessful amendments attempting to weaken the bill, including one requiring lengthy “informed consent” for men seeking treatment for erectile dysfunction.

The 20-week abortion ban, which does not apply in medical emergencies, would affect only a small percentage of abortions performed in Arizona. A little more than 11,000 abortions were reported in Arizona in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the state Department of Health Services.

Of those, 106, or 1 percent, occurred in pregnancies past the 20-week mark. However, no gestational age was reported for an additional 144 abortions, said Christopher Mrela, a health services vital records manager.

A handful of other states have adopted 20-week bans, starting with Nebraska in 2010.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the measure Thursday. If approved by a formal vote, it must return to the House for final approval.

An earlier version of the legislation was introduced in the House but it stalled. Republicans later resurrected it in the Senate.

Arizona already has laws about “informed consent” requirements, a prohibition on a type of late-term abortions and regulations of abortion clinics.

The new proposal would require the state health department maintain an extensive website that provides information about alternatives to abortion, medical risks and descriptions and images of fetuses.

It also increases the current requirement that an ultrasound be performed before an abortion from one hour before to 24 hours before. It also requires abortion clinics to post signs providing notice that it’s illegal for anyone to coerce a woman to have an abortion.

Democratic legislators tried to amend the bill to add lengthy “informed consent” requirements about drugs designed to treat symptoms of erectile dysfunction.

“If this legislature decides that it’s going to wear white coats and stethoscopes and insert itself into women’s sexual health then they should make sure they’re also inserting themselves into men’s sexual health,” said Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson.

Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford of Tucson, who tried to add the language, said there are health risks involved with erectile dysfunction medication, such as risk of heart attack or stroke.

“I’m just making sure that we don’t lose any men because of this drug,” she said.

Republicans disagreed.

“I’m not hearing a lot of talk about whether or not men are complaining that they haven’t been informed about the risks of taking ED medication,” said Rep. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican. “But we have been informed of many women who regretted their abortions based on the fact that they haven’t been informed.”

Democrats also tried to strip the 20-week ban from the bill, arguing that doctors cannot determine down to a precise week how far along the pregnancy has progressed and the “arbitrary deadline” would likely prevent doctors from diagnosing anomalies in the fetus.

Barto disputed that, saying the risks to women’s health after 20 weeks are much greater, and that after that point in development, a fetus can feel pain.

In addition to unsuccessful attempts to weaken the bill with amendments, Democrats roundly denounced the bill in debate, including Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, who called it “the most damning, dangerous bill that this Legislature has ever passed.”

Posted in: Arizona