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Arizona House approves abortion bills

PHOENIX – With a self-proclaimed “pro-life” governor now in office, the Arizona House on Thursday approved a bill to impose an array of new restrictions on abortion, with supporters saying it would help protect women and critics saying it would crimp abortion rights.

Provisions include toughening an existing law on parental rights and newly requiring a waiting period and mandatory disclosures to women seeking abortions. It also would allow pharmacists and other care providers to refuse to participate in abortion or emergency contraception on moral grounds.

The Republican-led House also approved another abortion bill to revise a current law outlawing a type of late-term abortion unless the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life. Critics call the procedure, which involves partially delivering a fetus before aborting it, a “partial-birth abortion.”

House passage of the bills, which included in the first batch of non-budget bills approved by the chamber, was mostly along party lines and sent to the Senate. The bill (HB2564) that included the waiting period was approved 36-19. The late-term procedure bill (HB2400) was approved 37-19.

If either bill is signed by Brewer, it would mark a reversal from the past six years during which then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democratic supporter of abortion rights, vetoed every anti-abortion bill sent her.

Supporters of the bill imposing new requirements said the legislation would not overturn abortion rights but would provide women with information enabling them to make informed decisions. It also would protect and enhance rights of women, parents and health care providers, supporters said.

The bill strengthens the doctor-patient relationship by ensuring that women are informed of risks, benefits and alternatives, said the sponsor, Republican Rep. Nancy Barto of Scottsdale.

Now, consultations between women and abortion doctors are often minimal because “time is money,” Barto said. “Patients need an opportunity to raise questions.”

However, another backer later couched the bill in moral terms.

“This is human life that we’re talking about here, not a choice,” said Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler.

Critics said the bill would reduce the availability of abortion services and emergency contraception, particularly in rural areas with fewer health care options

Rep. Patricia Fleming, D-Sierra Vista, said the conscience provision could interfere with a doctor’s prescription of emergency contraception to a woman. “That person may end up taking more desperate measures, which is not in the interests of anyone,” she said.

The bill, Fleming said, “places the lives of women in danger.”

The Arizona law on late-term abortions was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in October 1997. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 upheld a federal version, and the current state legislation is intended to conform the 1997 state law to the federal statute.

Changes from the original law include specifying a punishment of a prison term up to two years and allowing a doctor charged under the law to seek a hearing before a state regulatory board to determine whether the doctor’s conduct was necessary to save the mother’s life.

A bill supporter, Republican Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix, said enactment of a new state law would enable local authorities to enforce the prohibition. Bill opponents said the late-term procedure is not performed in Arizona.

In urging members to lobby lawmakers to support both bills considered Thursday, the anti-abortion group Arizona Right to Life called them “two of the most pro-life bills ever to grace the halls of the Arizona Capitol.”

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Major provisions of House Bill 2564

• Changes the existing parental consent law for minors seeking an abortion by requiring that parental consent be notarized. Also specifies criteria for judges to use in considering bypasses of the requirement and allows a parent or guardian to sue over violations of the law.

• Generally requires a physician performing an abortion to obtain “informed consent” from the woman at least 24 hours before the abortion. Information conveyed individually and privately to the woman before obtaining her consent must include medical risks of abortions and of carrying the pregnancy to term, alternatives to abortions, probable gestational age and other characteristics of the fetus, and the father’s responsibility to help support the child.

• Allows doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other regulated health professionals who file written objections citing moral or religious grounds to not participate in providing abortions, abortion medication or emergency contraception.

• Prohibits non-physicians from performing surgical abortions. This would prohibit nurse practitioners from performing surgical abortions.

• Prohibits a person, including a parent or guardian of a minor, from coercing a minor to obtain an abortion.

• Specifies that the legislation does not create a right to have an abortion.

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