Two moderate Republican senators handed Cathi Herrod’s Center for Arizona Policy a last-minute loss late May 27, killing a late-breaking anti-abortion bill in a rare defeat for the influential conservative policy organization.
While other Republican-dominated states have spent the past month passing strict regulations, in some cases attempting to ban abortion outright or before many women even know they’re pregnant, Arizona ended the legislative session with no new anti-abortion actions on the books.
That’s a rarity in Arizona, where supporters of abortion rights are so used to seeing last-minute anti-abortion bills backed by the Center for Arizona Policy that they’re just “the usual status quo run-of-the-mill routine,” Planned Parenthood of Arizona media relations manager Tayler Tucker said.
“There’s usually nothing introduced at the beginning of the session, and then magically Cathi Herrod gets a win,” Tucker said. “We’re so used to seeing the Center for Arizona Policy get their way on extremely detrimental policy.”
This year, the Center for Arizona Policy backed a plan to allocate $7.5 million in state funding over three years to an unidentified nonprofit modeled on one in Texas that aimed to discourage abortions by directing women to social and health services. So-called crisis pregnancy centers already exist in Arizona; they just don’t receive state funding.
“The family health pilot program was designed to reach women who are actively seeking an abortion and were not aware of the services available for them,” Herrod said.
Because of existing state laws and their duty to patients, Planned Parenthood employees already inform women of community services and state and federal programs that can provide nutrition or monetary assistance, Tucker said.
Legislative leaders dealt one blow to the program before it even came up for a vote: House Speaker Rusty Bowers sponsored an amendment that would reduce the allocation from $7.5 million over three years to a one-time $2.5 million.
The bill failed in the Senate, where Republicans Kate Brophy McGee and Heather Carter joined with Democrats to kill it. Both cited the failure of a bill that would restore funding slashed during the recession for the state’s 211 hotline, which refers people — including pregnant women — to health, community and government services.
Carter, R-Cave Creek, said she was also disappointed that her legislation requiring the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System to cover dental care for pregnant women was not included in the budget, despite easily passing the Senate and House committees.
“I find it ironic that we can fund money to do this, but we can’t fund money to do the other two programs,” Carter said as she voted against the crisis pregnancy center bill.
Herrod said the Center for Arizona Policy had no problems with funding the 211 hotline, provided that it did not refer women to organizations that provide abortions. That’s a separate issue from the pilot program the center backed, she said.
“It’s tragic that women who are considering an abortion are not aware of services available to them. It’s not simply a referral service like 211 is,” Herrod said.
She said she also expected the funding for the pilot program to be included in the main budget, but “apparently the decision was made at some point to have a separate bill.”
When Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, told the Arizona Capitol Times she planned to vote for the budget days earlier, she mentioned how much she appreciated the lack of “policy poison pills,” included in the appropriation for the anti-abortion program, in the main budget.
This is the second time in the past several years that a last-minute anti-abortion measure backed by the Center for Arizona Policy has stumbled.
In February 2013, Herrod told the Arizona Capitol Times the center didn’t plan to introduce any anti-abortion bills that year. Months later, the center backed a last-minute strike-everything amendment that would have allowed health inspectors to carry out surprise inspections of abortion clinics.
That bill passed out of the House Appropriations Committee in 2013, but was quietly killed after Democrats offered an amendment that would have replaced it with a study committee. The bill succeeded a year later, and then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed it in April 2014.
Abortion legislation in Arizona over the past several years has been smaller and more wonky than the more sweeping restrictions introduced in other states because the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals routinely overturns broader bans, Tucker said.
In 2017, the center succeeded in passing a late-introduced bill that shifted the responsibility for allocating federal Title X family planning dollars from the nonprofit Arizona Family Health partnership to the Arizona Department of Health Services in an attempt to keep the money out of Planned Parenthood’s hands. In 2018, the center backed a bill requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions many questions about why they’re at the clinic.
“It’s an insidious tactic,” Tucker said. “In Arizona, the chipping away of abortion care is death by a thousand cuts.”