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Law requiring questioning of women seeking abortion takes effect

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Women seeking to terminate a pregnancy are now going to be confronted by some new questions about their decision.

And the doctors who perform the procedure will have new reports to file.

A new law that took effect Tuesday updates existing statutes that had an open-ended question that health care providers were supposed to ask about the reason for the abortion. That included whether the procedure is elective or due to some issue of maternal or fetal health.

But proponents of the change argued that doesn’t provide sufficient information, at least not in a form where it can be classified into categories and published in annual reports by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Now patients have to be asked whether the abortion is elective or whether it was due to one of a list of medical conditions.

There’s more. Women also will be asked whether the procedure is being sought because the pregnancy is due to rape or incest. And there also are questions about whether they are being coerced into the abortion, whether they are the victim of sex trafficking and whether they are the victim of domestic violence.

Nothing in the measure, however, requires a woman to answer in order to have her pregnancy terminated.

The law that took effect Tuesday also includes new requirements for reporting the medical specialty of the physician performing the abortion, and where it was done and whether there was anesthesia administered to the mother or the fetus.

And there are some new mandates on doctors to provide data on the number of women who are provided with legally required “informed consent” information at least 24 hours ahead of the abortion about the nature of the procedure along with the number of ultrasound or fetal heartbeat services.

But it is that list of new questions that proved most controversial as the measure got through both the House and Senate with only one Democrat in support – Sen. Catherine Miranda of Phoenix – before being signed into law by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

The legislation was crafted in part by the anti-abortion Center for Arizona Policy.

But Michael Clark, general counsel for the organization, denied that the measure is an effort to throw additional hurdles in the path of women seeking to terminate a pregnancy. Instead, he said it is about the ability of the health department to gather more and better information.

“They say that abortion-reporting requirements help them to monitor the long-term changes in overall incidence of abortion in Arizona, the complications associated with abortion procedures and pregnancy-related program development and evaluations,” Clark said. “This information helps understand why abortion exists, what are the motivating factors going on, why it’s going up and down.”

But it was not the health department that crafted or sought the measure. Lobbyist Colby Bower registered his agency as neutral on the proposal crafted by CAP.

In fact, CAP’s original proposal had even more probing and personal questions. It wanted women to be asked whether the abortion was due to economics, a desire not to have children, or “relationship issues” including extramarital affairs.

These, however, proved too much even for supporters to approve and they were removed before final approval.

Jodi Liggett, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said even what remains is unnecessary, saying it creates additional administrative burdens.

“We also think question after question after question for patients is very shaming, or can be,” Liggett continued, saying that, in turn, discourages women from seeking abortions. “And, candidly we think that was part of the motivation as well.”

Clark, however, said some of the questions are specifically designed to get immediate help for women, like asking them if they are the victims of sex trafficking or abuse. Liggett called that unnecessary.

“Our providers, if they have any suspicion whatsoever, provide information and referral to folks,” she said. And Liggett said existing law already requires Planned Parenthood to report abuse when it involves minors.

The sole saving grace of the measure, she said, is that women are free to refuse to answer any questions about why they want to terminate a pregnancy.

“So you can bet that we will be informing them, up front, that they are allowed to decline to respond,” Liggett said.

Proponents of the legislation, while saying they wanted as much information as possible about the reasons for abortions, rejected some suggestions.

During floor debate Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, said women should be asked whether they lack access to affordable health care. And he said inquiries also should be made of whether a woman has access to “adequate comprehensive sex education.”

Hernandez argued that if the goal is fewer abortions, one way to do that is to have fewer unintended pregnancies. And if that’s the case, he argued, then women should be asked if things like access to contraceptives, or not knowing how to use a condom, resulted in getting pregnant in the first place.

But Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, 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.”

The bigger issue for foes was what they said is unnecessary state intrusion in a medical procedure — and only this specific procedure.

“If I get an abortion, it is no one’s business,” said Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix.

“It is not this Legislature’s business, it is not the governor’s business or anyone in state government,” she said. “The Catholic Church does not need to know why I am getting an abortion, and not the Center for Arizona Policy.”

Clark said there’s a reason his organization sought the changes, but only when a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy.

“I guess you could make the argument that abortion is a unique type of medical procedure,” he said, one that the court have said is constitutionally protected, “which set it apart from other types of procedures.”

One comment

  1. bradley taylor hudson

    Why not gather the desired information from all pregnant women? Clark says they want it “only when a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy.” True, women seeking abortion are a distinct group of pregnant women, but so are women who go full term for various, but distinct, reasons. If the goal was really information-gathering, they would want info from all pregnant women. The goal of this legislation seems twofold. First, to intimidate and influence women and doctors. Second, to gather information to be used in future anti-abortion campaigns.

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