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Abortion debate brings out lawmakers’ personal experiences, emotions

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, and Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, speak after an emotional debate on the Senate floor Feb. 22, 2023, on a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” SB1600 passed on a party-line vote of 16-13 and must pass the House and get the approval of the governor, who is expected to veto it. Sen. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, sits in the foreground reading. (Photo by Camryn Sanchez/Arizona Capitol Times)

In a usually contentious forum, lawmakers on Wednesday wept, offered comfort, and spoke about their struggles with ambivalence on abortion as they discussed a proposed law that would require medical professionals to try and save any “infant born alive.” 

And from the debate on the bill two lawmakers, both nurses, found a moment of understanding despite ideological differences. 

Janae Shamp

Sen. Janae Shamp, R-Surprise, is the sponsor of Senate Bill 1600, and she argued on behalf of her bill against Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa. 

While they disagree strongly on abortion issues, Burch and Shamp share common ground. After an emotional discussion brought lawmakers to tears, they came together for an embrace after the bill passed the Senate third reading 16-13 on party lines. 

Burch is open about the fact that she’s had miscarriages before, including one since taking office in January. She made the difficult decision to have one pregnancy terminated, although she wanted the baby to be born, after a doctor explained that the pregnancy would end in a miscarriage.  

“If I had a baby that was 18 weeks, 19 weeks, 20 weeks, that I delivered in a hospital, and that baby was born alive, a medical team springing into action to do medical intervention instead of me being allowed to hold my baby when it died, and instead of allowing for comfort care and for all of the other options that are available and appropriate. That’s my concern,” Burch said. 

Eva Burch (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

The bill requires any “infant who is born alive” – including one that survives an abortion – to get “medically appropriate and reasonable care” from health professionals. A health care professional who violates the bill “intentionally or knowingly” is guilty of a felony and could have their license revoked. 

The bill also says that no treatment is required if it would only “prolong the act of dying when death is imminent.” 

With that language, Shamp said she believes that doctors wouldn’t be rushing to save non-viable fetuses. Abortions over 15 weeks’ gestation are already illegal in Arizona.  

“As a nurse, I will always stand to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” Shamp, registered nurse, said. 

Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills said he believes the bill would only apply to abortions, but Burch and other Democrats disagreed.  

Although the bill mentions abortion, it’s not specific to that. Burch, an ER nurse, said that miscarriages are common and that the bill would “really only apply” to patients miscarrying. She reminded the chamber that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the bill. 

Premature babies born under 23 weeks’ gestation are not generally considered viable. Burch called it “inhumane” to provide medical care in those cases.  

“Requiring the medical professional to provide lifesaving and sometimes painful interventions when a life cannot be fixed, it’s not medical, its torture, and its experimentation and my concern is that when a mother losing a pregnancy that this is a very difficult time for a woman,” she said. 

Catherine Miranda

Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, known as a rare pro-life Democrat, voted against Shamp’s bill.  

Miranda served four years in the House and four years in the Senate with that identifier – but she took the last four years off from the Legislature.  

“I got to reflect and revisit some things. … I realized through that reflection the hypocrisy that I was involved in,” Miranda said on the Senate floor. “What are we doing with that child after it’s born? I didn’t do much. The Senator [Burch] spoke in the Committee of the Whole of her experience, and that’s a real experience, and do you think that if there were tools to save that baby do you think that she wouldn’t have insisted? She’s a mother, we all would have.” 

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, said he had concerns with the bill although he is pro-life. 

 He ultimately voted ‘yes,’ but said the language might not yet strike the “correct balance.” 

Bennet also spoke from personal experience. 

Bennett’s daughter has worked as a labor and delivery nurse for 15 years.  

Bennett, elections, residency

Former Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett (Bill Clark/Pool via AP)

“Somehow she has in both places where she’s worked kind of become the nurse that deals with infant demises, and the stories I hear about break my heart,” Bennett said.  

He recalled stories of his daughter taking locks of hair or using a Q-tip to push the hand of a dead fetus into plaster of Paris to make a mold for the grieving family. 

“I know my child would never make a decision in a room with parents … that she didn’t feel was in the best interest of the child and of the family,” he said. 

The conservative Center for Arizona Policy is backing Shamp’s bill and issued a statement after its passage in the Senate, saying the votes tell “everything you need to know about which lawmakers refuse to draw the line before infanticide.” 

Shamp doesn’t depict the issue as one with any gray area either.  

“This isn’t about emotion. This isn’t about reproductive health. This is about life. Spiritual and comfort care is medically appropriate and reasonable care. Every baby that is born alive deserves a chance to live,” she told the chamber, siting the story of a couple whose child was born alive, but died about a week later. The couple believes the child was “slow coded” by doctors who didn’t expect her to live and didn’t do everything possible to save her. 

The bill still must pass the House before it lands on the desk of Gov. Katie Hobbs, an ardent pro-choice advocate who is expected to veto it.  

Burch said there’s still value in holding these floor discussions.  

“Maybe we could at least understand each other, even if we can’t agree a little bit, Burch said. “And I think that’s definitely the right direction, and I know there are plenty on my side of the issue who would say that those conversations are futile, and that we have to call those things out for exactly what they are and all that, but maybe it’s because I’m new, I’m still hopeful.” 

As for Shamp, Burch said as a fellow nurse she agrees with her colleague on as many things as she disagrees with her on.  

Shamp is Trump-endorsed, religious, and conservative. Burch is endorsed by Planned Parenthood, non-religious and liberal.  

She says she gets along with Shamp at the Legislature.  

“Hopefully, we can all try to listen to each other,” Burch said.  

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