Arizona won’t force women to give birth in cases where a fetus has a genetic abnormality, at least not now, after a state senate from Mesa broke ranks and joined Democrats to defeat the measure.
SB 1457 came up one vote short last week as Sen. Tyler Pace sided with all 14 Democrats in refusing to make it a crime for a doctor to terminate a pregnancy knowing it is being sought “because of a genetic abnormality of the child.’’
That same crime, which carried a year in state prison, could also be applied to anyone who assisted – a category that backers acknowledged could extend from nurses to clerical staff.
“I’m not supportive of abortion in many of its ways,’’ he told colleagues. But Pace said he is hesitant to start criminalizing health care decisions especially with the way this measure is worded.
Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who is the sponsor of SB 1457, said she would try to craft language to address Pace’s concerns and get him to provide the required 16th vote.
That, however, would have to be inserted into another bill as it is too late to amend this one even if Barto can have it resurrected. But at this point Pace was apparently unwilling to accept her assurances and vote for the plan so it could be sent to Gov. Doug Ducey, who has signed every abortion measure that has reached his desk.
It remains unclear whether there is any way for Barto to alter the issue to Pace’s satisfaction. The problems he cited are not subject to simple fixes.
It starts with the fact that elective abortions remain legal in Arizona. So, any woman is free to terminate a pregnancy, at least before a fetus is viable, without providing a reason.
Pace questioned what happens if a woman goes to a doctor seeking an elective abortion and, during the course of an examination, it is determined there are genetic abnormalities in the fetus.
“Would the physician be able to perform the abortion under the elective option?’’ he asked. “Or would the knowledge of that cause the physician to be prohibited from performing that?’’
Pace said a doctor may be approached by a women seeking to terminate her pregnancy, stating, “How does a doctor know it’s for the express purpose of a genetic abnormality?’’
The original version of SB 1457 sought to outlaw all abortions in cases of a genetic abnormality.
That bothered Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, who added language to allow a termination when there was a “severe fetal abnormality,’’ defined as “a life-threatening physical condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life.’’
Cobb said this would ensure that women are not required to carry a fetus to term that would not long survive outside the womb.
At the same time, she said, it would honor the intent of the bill, which is to bar abortions simply because a fetus was diagnosed with something like Down’s syndrome.
Pace said that change only made things worse.
“I have tried to find what is ‘reasonable medical judgment’ and what is ‘incompatible with life,’ ‘’ he said, including how quickly a newborn would have to die in order for the defect to be considered “incompatible with life.’’
Worse yet, he said, that verbiage would mean that the fate of a doctor who went ahead with an abortion would be left to the courts.
“A jury would have to determine what medical judgment was ‘reasonable,’ ‘’ he said. “We are asking a panel of lay individuals to determine medical judgments, to play the ‘board of medicine.’ ‘’
Pace said he would have been more comfortable had the legislation said doctors can’t be held liable if they exercised “good faith clinical judgment.’’
In refusing to vote for SB 1457, Pace quashed other provisions sought by abortion foes.
One would have made it illegal for women to receive the pills for medication abortions in the mail or by courier. Instead, they would have to go to a doctor to get the pills where they would presumably first be examined.
Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, said it is wrong to simply allow a woman to take the pills without medical supervision.
SB 1457 also included language that said Arizona laws grant an “unborn child’’ at every stage of development “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state,’’ subject only to the limits of the U.S. Constitution and rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Barto also said that the legislation was not designed to provoke a challenge to the historic 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade which said women have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus becomes viable.
“We don’t need that,’’ she said. “This policy is law in four other states.’’