State lawmakers are moving to force doctors to tell women their medical abortions can be reversed if they act quickly, a procedure that even its anti-abortion proponents admit lacks medical proof that it works.
The new proposal approved Wednesday by a House panel is based on testimony by Allan Sawyer, the immediate past president of the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who said he personally helped a woman save her pregnancy by administering progesterone. The doctor said it is only right to mandate in state law that all women be told that is an option.
But Sawyer acknowledged under questioning that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of that drug for that purpose, though what he did is not illegal. Instead, Sawyer said only that “studies are ongoing.”
And Sawyer also said there are no studies of whether the procedure has resulted in birth defects for women who make that choice.
The language approved by the House Committee on Federalism and States’ Rights was added to a measure already approved by the state Senate which denies women who purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act the option of obtaining coverage for elective abortion. Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said the purpose is to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to subsidize the procedure.
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said SB1318 goes beyond subsidies. He said the legislation even blocks women from using their own money to purchase a “rider” to that policy.
And the same bill would require abortion doctors – and only abortion doctors – to provide their home addresses to the Department of Health Services, where they could be released as a public record.
That last provision drew derision by Rep. Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, who pointed out that Rep. Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, who chairs the committee and who voted for the bill, had introduced legislation to make the home addresses of all elected officials off limits to the public.
“I find that a little embarrassing, personally, when legislators want their information held private from the public, but we’re not willing to ensure the safety of physicians that we know have been murdered because of the procedures they offer,” Rios said.
Townsend’s legislation never got a hearing.
The debate got so personal at one point that Townsend had to recess the hearing.
It started with Rep. Darin Mitchell, R-Litchfield Park, questioning Howard why he had written that this is a measure being pushed by “extreme lawmakers.”
“There’s only us sitting here,” Mitchell said.
“So, I must be one of them,” Mitchell continued. “You know that’s not true.”
“I’m not sure that you’re not an extremist,” responded Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson.
“You tell me,” Wheeler continued. “You prove it, you prove it to the public whether you’re an extremist or not.”
“We’re not going to discuss here who’s extremist,” Townsend interjected. “This is about the bill.”
What is in the bill is the new requirement that women be told at least 24 hours ahead that “it may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion if the woman changes her mind but that time is of the essence.”
“As a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist, licensed in the state of Arizona for over a quarter of a century, I testify to you today that abortion is not health care,” Sawyer told lawmakers. “Women who have initiated a medical abortion process and who change their minds for whatever reason should not have their babies stolen from them because Planned Parenthood or any abortionist withheld life-saving facts or withheld information.”
But Ilana Addis, who chairs the Arizona section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said doctors are supposed to “practice medicine that is evidence-based.”
“Unfortunately, the protocol that has been suggested for reversing a medication abortion has no evidence to support it,” she told lawmakers.
Townsend said foes were making too big a deal out of it, saying that progesterone is “a simple hormone.” But Addis said that doesn’t make it any less of a drug.
“Though it is a hormone that’s made in the body, the progesterone that women take is a medication that is made in a lab,” she said. “It’s still a medication is somebody is taking it to do something for them.”
And Addis said there are complications from progesterone and “the side effects are not necessarily minor.”
The question of insurance goes to the argument by Cathi Herrod, president of the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy, that 90 percent of all people who obtain coverage obtained under the Affordable Care Act get some sort of government subsidy.
Herrod acknowledged that coverage for elective abortion is offered under a separate “rider.”
But she said insurers are charging just $1 a month, which she said is proof that insurers are using “an accounting gimmick” to hide the fact that there are taxpayer funds involved. Herrod said that’s why the legislation bars any coverage for abortion.
There are exceptions which allow coverage for situations involving the life of the mother, serious physical harm or cases rape or incest.
Herrod, questioned about how a woman would prove rape, said that would be left to the insurance company. Rios found that answer unsatisfactory.
“We will have situations where we have rape victims that are going to be revictimized, having to plead their case” to get coverage, she said.
The legislation now needs approval of the full House.