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Proposal to require questions of women who seek abortion returns

Would include requirement to provide fetal tissue as evidence in cases of rape


A controversial reporting requirement stripped from an abortion bill is back, and this time lawmakers also want to require doctors to save a sample of the fetal tissue if the pregnancy was the result of sexual assault.

Under current Arizona law enacted in 2010, hospitals and physicians are only required to report to the Arizona Department of Health Services whether an abortion performed was elective or if it was done for the health and safety of the mother or fetus.

A proposed amendment to SB1394 that is expected to be offered on the House floor would require hospitals or abortion providers also report to the Health Department whether the abortion was the result of sexual assault or incest, or if the woman is the victim of sex trafficking, domestic violence or is being coerced into obtaining the procedure.

Women can decline to answer the question.

If the woman discloses that she is being forced into getting an abortion or the pregnancy is the result of a crime, the hospital or clinic is required to provide the woman with information regarding her right to report the crime to law enforcement and available resources.

The amendment would also require the preservation of fetal tissue sample for potential use in a criminal investigation, if the abortion is the result of sexual assault.

Approved by the Senate, 17-13, on a party-line vote, the original language of SB1394 spelled out 10 possible reasons for why a women got an abortion, such as for economic reasons, whether the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, or because the pregnancy resulted in fetal anomalies.

The bill was amended by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee to strip the controversial language and reinstate what is already required by law.

Farnsworth, who is also sponsoring the floor amendment, said while there were concerns that the original language of the bill went too far and asked questions that weren’t germane to the abortion procedure, his amendment would allow providers to determine if the pregnancy is the result of illegal activity or if the woman is being coerced into getting an abortion.

The additional reporting requirements, he said, could provide women with an opportunity to seek help that they may otherwise not have.

“This is an opportunity for women in a very private setting outside of their controllers to talk to their doctor and say, ‘Yes, I’ve been raped. Yes, I’m being human trafficked,’” he said. “This may be the only time that somebody gets asked about those issues.”

Farnsworth said he sponsored the amendment after hearing testimony in committee from people who were concerned that in some cases women were being forced to get an abortion.

“Coercion is already illegal, but that peaked my interest – if we have people that we believe are being coerced, contrary to statute, it would make sense to try to identify those illegal activities that may have resulted in someone being coerced. That’s the intent here,” he said.

Dr. Julie Kwatra, legislative chairwoman for the Arizona section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which represents all board certified obstetricians and gynecologists statewide, said the proposed amendment adds additional and burdensome reporting requirements and infringes on patients’ privacy rights.

But what the group finds most troubling is the requirement that physicians save a sample of the fetal tissue in cases of sexual assault.

Kwatra said when a woman goes to the emergency room following an assault, it’s her choice to have a rape kit completed and not a requirement. Women should have the same choice in the event that the pregnancy is the result of an assault, she said.

“For trauma victims, the victim is supposed to be at the center to avoid re-traumatizing an already vulnerable patient, so the fact that this is required is absolutely abhorrent,” she said.

She questioned the legality of the requirement and said the national association is studying whether physicians would actually be required to comply.

Kwatra added that it’s already a recommended standard of care for all healthcare providers to screen for abuse, and physicians are also being taught to look out for signs of trafficking.

“We don’t need a law to mandate that, especially in a private environment where a woman is seeking a termination,” she said. “If our legislators want to increase awareness and criminal prosecution of sexual assault and violence there’s many ways of doing this without doing it at the time of termination.”

SB1394 was set to be debated in Committee of the Whole and go up for a vote on the House floor on April 6, but the discussion was postponed.

The bill will likely go up for a vote on April 9, and Farnsworth said he expects members will approve both his amendment and the bill.

“I think it’s pretty straight forward. I don’t know why it would be controversial,” he said of his amendment. “If we have women who are seeking abortions because of illegal activity … why wouldn’t anybody want that question to be asked and see if we can get some help for that woman.”

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