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Bill would impose new abortion restrictions in Arizona

A sweeping anti-abortion bill would generally ban abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy and impose an array of new disclosure requirements, including having the state post online depictions of fetuses at two-week intervals.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said Tuesday the legislation supported by the conservative advocacy group is intended to protect the health of women and provide more information to those considering abortions so they can make more informed decisions.

Planned Parenthood Arizona, the state’s largest abortion provider, opposes the bill. Its provisions erect barriers that would make it harder for women to get abortions, particularly medication abortions, said Michelle Steinberg, public policy director.

The bill was introduced in the House by Republican Rep. Kimberly Yee and 32 other GOP lawmakers late Monday, the deadline to introduce bills in that chamber.

It represents the next chapter in abortion opponents’ continuing and largely successful efforts in the Republican-led Legislature. Measures already enacted into law include so-called “informed consent” requirements, a prohibition on a type of late-term abortions and regulations of abortion clinics. The staffing requirements in clinic regulations have had the effect of halting Planned Parenthood’s abortion services in several cities outside the Phoenix and Tucson metro areas.

The bill says the 20-week ban stems from concerns that fetuses at that stage can feel pain and that women have higher health risks from later abortions.

Viability, the ability to live outside the womb, is generally considered to be at 22 to 24 weeks.

The ban, which does not apply in medical emergencies, would affect only a small percentage of abortions performed in Arizona.

Just over 11,000 abortions were reported in Arizona in 2010, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Of those, 106, or 1 percent, involved pregnancies of 20 weeks or later, but no gestational age was reported for an additional 144 abortions, said Christopher Mrela, a health services vital records manager.

Similar 20-week bans have been enacted in a handful of other states, starting with Nebraska in 2010.

The bill would require the health department to provide a web site that provides a range of information, including alternatives to abortion, medical risks and descriptions of fetuses.

The descriptions would include “pictures or drawings representing the development of unborn children at two-week gestational increments and any relevant information on the possibility of the unborn child’s survival.”

Other provisions of the bill would require:

— Performing a fetal ultrasound imaging at least 24 hours before an abortion, up from the current requirement of at least one hour.

— Posting signs in abortion clinics providing notice that state law bars coercing a woman to have an abortion.

— Following federal Food and Drug Administration protocols for drugs used in medication abortions.

Herrod said the anti-coercion posting requirement is a response to anecdotal reports that individual women have felt pressured by husbands, boyfriends or family members.

“This is just to make it clear to women that nobody can force them to have an abortion,” she said.

Steinberg said Planned Parenthood provides abortion to women through their own choice, not due to coercion.

“So to intimate that we would allow such a thing, that’s really the purpose of that language, to create that image,” she said of the bill’s provision.

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