Saying they’re protecting women’s health, the state House voted Monday along party lines to require hospitals and clinics to ask patients the reason they are seeking an abortion.
The questions in SB 1394, approved on a 35-22 margin, are not quite as intrusive as had originally been proposed by Cathi Herrod and her anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy. Among the reasons on the checklist she wanted women to answer — and what she got the Senate to approve — was whether the abortion was for economic reasons, a desire not to have children at this time, fetal anomalies and “relationship issues” including extramarital affairs.
But the House voted to replace those with questions of whether the abortion is elective, due to maternal or fetal health, and whether the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, whether the woman is a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence, and whether the woman is being “coerced into obtaining an abortion.”
“What this bill is about is getting information,” argued Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert.
But Farnsworth’s desire for information has limits.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, proposed expanding the list to include two other questions.
One was whether the woman lacked access to affordable health care. The other was whether the woman did not have access to “adequate comprehensive sex education.”
He said a theme repeated throughout the debate was that the additional information would lead to fewer abortions.
One way to do that, Hernandez said, is to have fewer unintended pregnancies. And if that’s the goal, then women should be asked if things like access to contraceptives — and even not knowing how to use a condom — resulted in them getting pregnant in the first place.
Farnsworth swatted down the proposal.
“Sex education is not a health care issue,” he said.
“Having access to contraception is not a health care issue,” Farnsworth continued. “It’s a pre-health care issue.”
Hernandez countered that it is impossible to separate the question of how and why people got pregnant with the question of why they are seeking to terminate that pregnancy.
Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley, D-Tucson, agreed.
She cited figures that 51 percent of pregnancies in Arizona are unintended and 44 percent of live births are to women who are not married, most of these to women younger than 20.
“This is an issue of poverty and access to care,” Powers Hannley said. “And we should let women make their own medical decisions without the help of government.”
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, had no more luck with her proposal to have some state oversight of “pregnancy crisis centers” which she said are storefront operations that seek to persuade women against having an abortion but masquerade as providing medical care, many of which have no medical personnel present,.
“And yet they’re giving medical advice to women on their pregnancy,” Salman said, yet refusing to provide referrals to women who decide they do, in fact, want an abortion. She said having some state oversight of what goes on there “guarantees that we can start getting the facts that are necessary to protect women’s choices and protect their health care during pregnancy.”
Farnsworth said what Salman proposed was “just to obfuscate the issue.”
He was no more supportive of a proposal by Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, to eliminate some restrictions already in place, like a waiting period before a woman can terminate a pregnancy.
Engel argued that if the discussion is about maternal health that abortion is “one of the safest medical procedures” available. More to the point, she said the longer a woman is forced to wait before having an abortion, the riskier the procedure becomes.
That whole discussion drew derision from House Majority Leader John Allen, R-Scottsdale.
“It’s hard to hear that this is the safest procedure in surgery when we know that a death occurs every time one happens,” he said.
Farnsworth specifically defended the questions on sex trafficking and whether a woman was being coerced. He said the questionnaire gives clinic and hospital officials a chance to take the woman into a separate room, without others present, to get some answers and get her help if she needs.
Salman, for her part, said the whole discussion is inappropriate.
“It’s none of the government’s business why a woman is getting an abortion,” she said.
The measure now returns to the Senate which has to decide whether to accept the House amendments.