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Senate panel adopts stricter abortion rules

Women who seek an abortion will have to wait at least 24 hours between the time they speak to a doctor about terminating a pregnancy and the actual procedure, under legislation adopted by a Senate committee June 10.

The legislation also requires the doctor who will perform the abortion procedure to speak with the woman in person to provide information on the immediate and long-term risks associated with abortion, alternatives to the procedure and the “probable anatomical and physiological characteristics” of the unborn child.

In addition, the doctor must inform the woman that medical-assistance benefits may be available if she went through with the pregnancy, such as prenatal and neonatal care.

S1206, which was adopted by the Senate Public Safety and Human Services Committee, contains a whole set of restrictions on abortion.

Pro-life and pro-choice activists clashed during the committee hearing.

Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the bill is going to impose extraordinary costs on women who seek an abortion in terms of lost wages, travel and child care by requiring that doctors give them specific information in person 24 hours before the procedure.

An alternative would be to allow women to receive the required information by phone, he said.

Howard also objected to the provision requiring doctors to tell women that medical services are available should they continue with the pregnancy. In light of cuts to safety-net services that the Legislature is making, Howard suggested that those services might not be available.

“I would say if what the intent here is to limit availability of abortion care in Arizona, it is a great bill and the authors should be proud of it,” he said.

But Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said the bill is intended to update state statutes on abortion. She said the legislation was based on laws passed in other states that have been upheld by courts.

“It is intended to empower women by making sure that they have full and accurate information before they make that decision,” Herrod said.

She said a waiting period is reasonable. In most medical procedures, patients get to consult with their doctors about other options before the procedure, she said.

In the case of abortion, many women don’t even get to see the physician until he or she walks in to perform the procedure, Herrod said, adding she doesn’t know many medical procedures where the first appointment, diagnosis and the procedure are done at the same time.

The panel also adopted a measure, S1138, which modifies the definition of partial-birth abortion and specifies the term of imprisonment for someone who performs the procedure.

The Legislature passed a law in 1997 prohibiting partial-birth abortion that is not necessary to save the life of a mother, specifying it as a Class 6 felony and allowing for a civil action on behalf of the father or maternal grandparents if the mother is a minor. A U.S. District Court struck down the act as unconstitutional that same year.

In 2003, Congress enacted its own a partial-birth abortion ban, which the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2007. S1138 mirrors the federal law.

Both bills were passed largely along partisan lines; Republicans supported them while Democrats opposed them.

Sen. Linda Gray, chairwoman of the committee, called partial-birth abortion a “horrible procedure.”

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