State senators voted Wednesday to make abortions illegal if the woman is seeking to terminate the pregnancy because of a genetic abnormality of the fetus.
The preliminary approval of SB1457 came over objections from some legislators who said the state provides little support for women who decide to maintain their pregnancy even after learning that information. And Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, pointed out that even the Senate attorney said the measure is unconstitutional.
But Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said the issue for her is even more basic.
“As a woman, as a mom of five daughters and the grandmother of 10 young ladies I’m extremely opposed to anyone of us legislators really imposing our faiths on everybody else and on my family,” she said.
Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, who is sponsoring the legislation, said she believes her bill will protect women.
“What we’re doing here by not addressing this issue is we’re hurting the most vulnerable among us and making a judgment that they are unworthy to live,” she said.
At the heart of SB1457 is a legislative declaration that Arizona laws recognize that an unborn child has “all rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens and residents of this state.” The only limits would be the U.S. Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court.
Efforts by Barto and allies to outlaw abortion entirely have been thwarted by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the high court and its successor rulings which say, in essence, that women have an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy prior to a fetus becoming viable. So Barto is focused on a narrow subset of abortions: those done by a woman who is carrying a child with a genetic abnormality.
Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, said Barto appears to be using this specifically tailored legislation to get a test case about the limits of Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court. But she said lawmakers need to think about more than the constitutional issues.
“Abortion is clearly a very personal issue,” Engel said. “It’s a complex decision and so much more so when a family receives the diagnosis from a doctor that the child may have a genetic abnormality.”
Some of those abnormalities, she said, are “incredibly serious,” with a fetus dying in the womb or shortly after birth, and potentially even endangering a woman’s health.
Yet SB 1457 would make it a Class 3 felony for a doctor to terminate such a pregnancy, a crime that carries a presumptive 3.5 years in prison for a first-time offense.
Quezada said that still leaves the legal issues.
“This is a clearly and obviously a blatantly unconstitutional bill,” he said, citing the legal opinion of the Senate attorney that the measure runs afoul of current court rulings and legal precedents.
Barto, however, said lawmakers in Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Tennessee have enacted similar laws and all remain on the books. None of those statutes, however, have reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The measure also would outlaw the use of telemedicine for medical abortions, precluding women from getting abortion-inducing pills through the mail. It also would require that any aborted fetus be either buried or cremated and impose new restrictions on public educational institutions from counseling or referring a woman for an abortion other than to save her life.
A final roll-call vote is needed before the measure goes to the House.