Arizona Republicans are moving swiftly to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy ahead of a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision that could bring seismic changes to abortion availability in the United States.
Arizona already has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, including one that would automatically outlaw it if the high court fully overturns Roe v. Wade, the nearly five-decade-old ruling that enshrined a nationwide right to abortion.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance the 15-week ban in case the Supreme Court further limits abortion rights but stops short of fully overturning Roe. The measure closely mirrors a Mississippi law that is under review at the Supreme Court.
Under current abortion rulings, abortion is legal until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.
Lawmakers heard from nearly a dozen people on both sides of the long-simmering debate over abortion rights, including women who said their abortions saved their lives or futures and others who said they later regretted terminating their pregnancies.
“We need to look at this issue in terms of how lives can be saved, and this is the next step, a very common sense way of saving lives in Arizona,” said Sen. Nancy Barto, a Phoenix Republican who sponsored the bill.
Abortion rights advocates said the measure won't eliminate abortions, just drive them underground. Women who can afford it will travel out of state, and those who can't will seek out unsafe options on the black market or be forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
“As long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions,” said Marilyn Rodriguez, a lobbyist representing Planned Parenthood.
Arizona is one of at least three GOP-led states considering bans on the procedure after 15 weeks. Similar legislation is under consideration in Florida and West Virginia.
Against that backdrop, California lawmakers will consider plans this year to become a “sanctuary” for those seeking reproductive care. That could include paying for travel, lodging and procedures for people coming from other states.
The Arizona bill would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion after 15 weeks but would prohibit the prosecution of women for receiving one. Doctors could face felony charges and lose their license to practice medicine. There is an exception for cases when the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury, but not for instances of rape or incest.
Of the 13,186 abortions performed in Arizona in 2020, 636 were after 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
A proposal to mirror a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks has also been introduced in Arizona but has not advanced in the Legislature. The measure is unique in that it allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone else get an abortion after six weeks. It has made legal challenges difficult because the government is not involved in enforcement.
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