Spurred by a newly released undercover video, legislators sent a measure to Gov. Doug Ducey today requiring doctors to do everything possible to save the life of a baby born alive after an abortion, even telling them what that entails.
The 18-11 vote in the Senate came just hours after the House gave its approval on a 34-22 margin.
Ducey has signed every abortion restriction that has reached his desk since taking office more than two years ago. But spokesman Daniel Scarpinato would not comment on what fate this bill will meet, saying the governor wants to review the final language.
Officially, Arizona law already requires doctors to take actions in such situations. But SB1367 spells out what are considered signs of life, including breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation or “definite movement of voluntary muscles.”
Potentially more significant, it directs the Arizona Department of Health Services to come up with rules on exactly what medical professionals have to do in case of a live birth, including the possibility of resuscitation. And it would require clinics that perform abortions after 20 weeks of gestation to have staff on hand qualified to deal with premature births.
Wednesday’s votes came over objections of some lawmakers who said medical evidence shows that a fetus at 21 weeks cannot survive outside the womb.
They cited testimony from doctors during hearing who said that life-saving procedures on these premature babies, including inserting breathing tubes into them, is cruel, given that they will die anyway. The doctors said the better course is to give the baby to the mother – if she wants it – to let the family hold it and grieve as the baby dies naturally.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, added language he said spells out that a doctor need not do everything possible if it is determined before the abortion and confirmed after delivery and some preliminary care that the baby has a “lethal fetal condition” and will not survive beyond three months.
Farnsworth said that is a major concession as he believes existing law already requires medical care for all babies, including those with fetal conditions when they are born. He said this change codifies what doctors already are doing by deciding not to do life-saving measures and instead allowing the baby to die naturally.
That was enough to bring in the support of some Republicans who had been hesitant to support a blanket mandate for full-blown life-saving actions in all situations.
But Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said she does not believe this exception deals with all situations where it’s clear from the start that the fetus will not survive for long outside the womb.
“We end up depriving families of the last minutes of what they hoped would be a bright future but it’s not,” she said.
And Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said that means doctors will “still need to go through this horrendous process” of doing medical procedures on the premature baby.
But Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, recited a litany of names of babies he said were all born prior to 24 weeks – the current cutoff in Arizona for legal abortions – and are still alive. He said it’s wrong to simply assume premature babies won’t survive and should be allowed to die.
“The fact of the matter is health care providers don’t always know the chances of survival until they give a baby a chance to survive,” Boyer said.
Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, said he sees the issue in simpler terms.
He said an unborn fetus has no legal rights, a decision he does not necessarily agree with but which he recognizes as the law. That is the basis of the right of women to terminate a pregnancy.
All that changes, he said, once a baby is born alive.
“The choice is no longer available to them because that individual is there in the room with them,” Allen said. “This person has rights, individual rights.”
The debate at times focused on a newly released undercover video from the Center for Medical Progress taken at a conference of abortion providers more than two years ago in Los Angeles, California.
Two members of the anti-abortion group posed as buyers of fetal tissue to get DeShawn Taylor, the medical director of Desert Start Family Planning in Phoenix, to discuss abortion procedures.
Most of what is in the nearly 28 minute video is irrelevant to SB1367.
But there is a point where Taylor mentions existing law, saying that if the fetus “comes out with any signs of life, we’re supposed to transport it to the hospital.”
Rep. Maria Syms, R-Paradise Valley, cited another quote from Taylor.
“You need to pay attention to who’s in the room, right?” the video shows Taylor saying. “Because the thing is the law states you’re not supposed to do any maneuvers after the fact to try to cause demise, so it’s really tricky.”
“Who’s in the room?” Syms repeated during the debate, adding, “Why does it matter who is in the room if you are following the law?”
Multiple calls to Taylor at Desert Star seeking comment to the video were not immediately returned.
Clark, in response, read a statement from Planned Parenthood Arizona, which said while that organization is not affected – it does not do abortions beyond 20 weeks – “this cruel legislation attempts to stigmatize, shame, and interfere with personal medical decisions.” And Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Tayler Tucker also said it is “no coincidence” that the video emerged just ahead of the effort to round up votes for the measure.
The vote and the video release come a day after David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, two members of Center for Medical Progress, were indicted in California for making such undercover videos.
The 15-count indictment charges them with creating a phony corporation that was supposedly interested in the purchase of fetal tissue, allowing them to attend conferences with abortion providers. It was there where they surreptitiously recorded conversations with others, something that violates California law.
The video released Wednesday was not part of the indictment. But a spokeswoman for Center for Medical Progress confirmed that Daleiden was one of the two people involved in that taping of Taylor.
In a prepared statement, Daleiden claimed a First Amendment right to making such videos, saying he has other yet-to-be-released tapes, which he said show “Planned Parenthood’s criminal baby body parts enterprise.”
Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said his organization has never harvested fetal parts. Planned Parenthood nationally had accepted reimbursement for fetal tissue for research but stopped that practice in 2015.