Acting under the banner of protecting disability rights, the Republican-controlled legislature on Thursday voted along party lines to impose a new restriction on a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy by making it a crime to abort a child because of a fetal genetic defect.
SB1457, which now goes to Gov. Doug Ducey, says any medical professional who performs or aids an abortion in those cases can be sentenced to up to a year in state prison. Ducey has not said whether he will sign or veto the measure.
The measure also:
– Allows the husband of a woman who seeks such an abortion or the woman’s parents if she is younger than 18 to sue on behalf of the unborn child;
– Outlaws the ability of women to get otherwise-legal drugs to perform an abortion through the mail or other delivery service;
– Declares that the laws of Arizona must be interpreted to give an unborn child the same rights, privileges and immunities available to anyone else.
“We must stand for those at risk, the children with Down’s syndrome and other genetic abnormalities, through no fault of their own, who are being snuffed out in Arizona and throughout our country, and need to stand up for their life,” said Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of SB1457.
“What this bill is about is about giving a child the right to live,” said Sen. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert. And he pointed out that Arizona already has laws against discriminating against those with disabilities.
“If we take actions to protect those with disabilities outside the womb, we should also protect them from discrimination inside the womb,” Petersen said.
But Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon, D-Green Valley, said those claims ring hollow.
“This bill is an attempt by anti-abortion groups to co-opt the mantle of disability rights,” she said. And Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the measure is not being backed by any organization that lobbies on behalf of the disabled.
In many ways, the arguments by some of the supporters confirmed that the measure has less to do with disability than is a way for those who are opposed to abortion in all forms to find ways to chip away at the historic 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision which says women have a right to terminate a pregnancy prior to the viability of a fetus.
“Abortion is not health care,” said Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale. “Abortion takes the life of an innocent child every single time.”
And Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, whose grandfather was an obstetrician, said she sees nothing wrong with criminalizing abortion.
“A doctor who intentionally kills a patient should be charged with a felony,” she said.
Less clear is whether the measure is constitutional.
In the years since Roe v. Wade the justices have allowed states to impose some restrictions on the procedure. In general, though, these have been limited to questions of protecting the life of the mother.
Petersen pointed out that five other states have similar laws. That includes Ohio where the statutes say a doctor can be punished for performing an abortion after a patient says that a fetus having Down’s syndrome is part of her decision.
Earlier this month a divided federal appeals court agreed to allow that law to take effect, with the majority concluding that it furthers the state’s interest in affirming that individuals with the genetic disorder “are equal in dignity and value” with others. And the judges said that it does not impose an absolute ban on abortions.
None of these laws, however, has yet to get to the Supreme Court.