Legislation to impose the first new state restrictions on abortion in six years coasted to easy approval Wednesday in the House Committee on Health and Human Services as the Democrats, seeing they were going to be outvoted anyway, decided instead to walk out.
The 5-0 vote by the panel on HB2564 is a crucial victory for abortion foes. They managed to get various measures through the Republican-controlled Legislature in the past only to have each vetoed by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano.
This year's measure easily could get the votes to get to the desk of Jan Brewer, who became governor last month after Napolitano resigned to become U.S. Homeland Security director. Twelve of the 30 senators as well as 27 of 60 representatives already have signed on as sponsors.
Brewer has not taken a position on this bill. But in response to a 2006 survey by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, Brewer, then running for a second term as secretary of state, said she believes abortion should be outlawed entirely except to save the life of the mother.
That issue is academic unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision saying women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. But Brewer also said in the same survey she supports a 24-hour waiting period.
That matches up with a key provision of HB2564 which, except in case of a medical emergency, would prohibit women from terminating a pregnancy unless they were given certain information at least 24 hours ahead of time. That includes telling the woman "the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics" of the unborn child at that point. It also includes a requirement for the women to be told, in person, that:
The father of the child is liable for support, even if he agreed to pay for the abortion;
Medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal care, childbirth and postnatal care if they decided against an abortion;
Public and private agencies can assist the woman before and after the birth, whether she chooses to keep the child or put it up for adoption.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, called that a "government-mandated lecture." He also said the measure means someone has to have two face-to-face visits with the doctor or qualified assistant, something that becomes a particular hurdle for those who do not live in the Phoenix or Tucson metropolitan areas where doctors perform abortions.
Howard, however, did not tell that to committee members. Instead, he was outside with Democratic lawmakers holding a press conference.
Rep. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, one of the lawmakers who boycotted the debate and the vote, said the protest made a point.
"They've stacked the committee in such a way that Democrats are irrelevant," he said, with all six Republicans opposed to abortion. "We are not going to partake in their silly little games in committee when we are completely neglected, completely left to the side."
House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, admitted all the Republicans he appointed to the panel are against abortion. But he said that's true of most of the 35 GOP representatives.
Adams said he didn't think much of the walkout.
"It sounds like a temper tantrum occurring," he said. "Clearly, they don't agree with the bill. The responsible thing is to stay and state your case and vote against the bill."
Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, sponsor of the legislation, said nothing in it will prevent a woman who wants an abortion from getting one. But she said that it may reduce the number of abortions if some women, having extra time to think about it, decide otherwise.
Two other provisions on HB2564 also are from bills that Napolitano vetoed.
One would allow health professionals, hospitals and pharmacists to refuse to perform abortions, a right now reserved only for doctors. It also would allow these professionals to refuse to provide "morning after" pills, even to rape victims, with no requirement that they tell a woman where she could get them.
The argument on that surrounds the question of how the pills, essentially a high dose of hormones, work. One theory is they prevent ovulation; another is that they prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall.
Ron Johnson, who lobbies on behalf of the state's three Catholic bishops, said the bill would not create a hardship, even in rural areas. He said the pills are now available, without prescription, on the Internet.
Another provision in HB2564 would spell out in statute what factors a judge may consider in determining if a minor is mature enough to have an abortion without first getting parental consent. It also requires that any parental consent form be notarized.