The Republican controlled Arizona state senate has voted to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, despite critics of the bill saying it is unconstitutional.
The move puts a new ban in place ahead of a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision that could bring seismic changes to abortion availability in the US.
The vote came over objections from minority Democrats who said the measure was unconstitutional under the landmark Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court decisions the high court could overturn.
They also said any ban would disproportionately impact poor and minority women who won’t be able to travel to Democratic states without strict abortion laws.
But Sen. Nancy Barto, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said she hopes the high court upholds a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks it is now weighing.
The Republican controlled Arizona state senate has voted to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, despite critics of the bill saying it is unconstitutional. Pictured: Sen. Nancy Barto, the Republican sponsor of the bill
‘The state has an obligation to protect life, and that is what this bill is about,’ Barto said during debate. ‘A 15-week-old baby in the womb has a fully formed nose, lips, eyelids, they suck their thumbs. They feel pain. That’s what this bill is about.’
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, the nearly five-decade-old ruling that enshrined a nationwide right to abortion.
Republicans hope to put the 15-week ban in place so it takes effect quickly if the Supreme Court further limits abortion rights but stops short of fully overturning Roe. The measure closely mirrors the Mississippi law.
Under current abortion rulings, abortion is legal until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada pushed Barto on the state of the law today, with Roe and a series of follow-up decisions enshrining a woman’s right to abortion.
‘I understand the hopes of what the Supreme Court will do from from your side of the aisle,’ Quezada said. ‘But as it stands today, right now, is this law constitutional or not?’
‘I believe it is. I believe it is,’ Barto said. ‘I believe our constitution stands clearly for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the first part of that is life.’
Quezada, who represents parts of Glendale, said that’s just wrong.
‘If we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court does, let’s wait to see what the Supreme Court actually does before we start trying to change these laws,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, you’re spinning our wheels right now.’
He also noted that low-income Arizonans who already struggle to access healthcare will be impacted by a 15-week ban.
Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada pushed Barto on the state of the law today, with Roe and a series of follow-up decisions enshrining a woman’s right to abortion
‘Instead of making this type of health care more accessible to these people, we’re making it more difficult for them to get access to,’ he said. ‘So the reality is that that we’re making life harder for the people that need the most help in our society.’
The bill now moves to the state House, where majority Republicans also routinely back restrictions on abortion.
If passed there, it goes to Gov, Doug Ducey’s desk. The Republican opposes abortion and has signed every related bill that has reached his desk in the past seven sessions.
Barto’s 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.
The majority of states allow abortion up until ‘viability’ – or until a fetus could survive outside a womb – which is generally considered to be around the 24-week mark.
Few, such as Oregon, Colorado, New Mexico, Vermont, New Hampshire and New Jersey, have no restrictions, while others set a limit on around 25 or 24 weeks.
Some, however, have stricter rules. Mississippi, and now Arizona, restrict abortions to 15 weeks, while the Texas law restricts it to just six.
On Tuesday, two abortion providers in Oklahoma said that they’re still seeing a massive influx of women from Texas who want to terminate their pregnancies after Texas last year passed the law.
Officials with Trust Women and Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which both operate abortion clinics in Oklahoma City, said some women from Oklahoma are being forced to seek abortion services in other states because of two-week wait times for services in Oklahoma.
‘Our phones have not stopped ringing in the last six months,’ said Rebecca Tong, co-executive director of Trust Women. ‘We’re being forced to turn people away in desperate situations.’
Tong said the clinic has added an additional physician and the clinic is open more days per week but it still has longer wait times, which leads to longer pregnancies, more complications and an increased likelihood that a woman will have to receive a surgical procedure instead of a medication-induced abortion.
Statistics released last week by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission show abortions in Texas fell by 60% in the first month after the new law took effect that bans the procedure once cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
A group of Abolish Abortion protesters stand outside the House of Representatives chamber where Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt delivers his State of the State address in Oklahoma City on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022
Tong said the company’s Oklahoma City clinic went from seeing 12 Texas patients in August to 130 in September after the Texas law passed. She said their clinic in Kansas saw similar increases.
Emily Wales, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said Planned Parenthood went from seeing about 50 patients from Texas at their clinics in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma in the fall of 2020 to more than 1,000 last year.
Tong, Wales and other abortion rights advocates say they’re particularly concerned the Oklahoma Legislature intends to follow Texas’ lead and pass a similar bill or even more onerous restrictions that could bring an end to abortion services in Oklahoma altogether.
Oklahoma lawmakers have introduced more than a dozen bills this year to further restrict or prohibit abortions in Oklahoma, including measures that make it a felony crime to perform or receive an abortion.
Meanwhile, hundreds of anti-abortion activists are expected to descend on the Oklahoma Capitol on Wednesday for the annual Rose Day where they present red roses meant to signify the lives of the unborn and encourage the passage of anti-abortion bills.
Tony Lauinger, chairman of Oklahomans for Life and a longtime anti-abortion activist in Oklahoma, said that while he’s ‘greatly concerned’ at the increase in the number of abortions being performed in Oklahoma, he’s also optimistic that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a legal challenge that could lead to the historic Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion to be overturned or limited.
‘It’s a great concern to us if women from anywhere go to an abortion facility,’ Lauinger said. ‘When a pregnant woman goes into an abortion facility, two human beings enter and one leaves. Whether the women are from Texas, Oklahoma or elsewhere, that’s a tragedy in our view every time it occurs.’
Sates permit abortions to varying degrees, with the length of pregnancy being the main determinant.
Roe v. Wade: The landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The landmark ruling legalized abortion nationwide but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was filed in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old living in Texas who was unmarried and seeking a termination of her unwanted pregnancy.
Because of state legislation preventing abortions unless the mother’s life is at risk, she was unable to undergo the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, the Dallas county district attorney, in 1970. The case went on to the Supreme Court, under the filing Roe vs Wade, to protect McCorvey’s privacy.
Supreme Court Decision
The Supreme Court handed down the watershed 7-2 decision that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected under the 14th Amendment.
In particular, that the Due Process Clause of the the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental ‘right to privacy’ that protects a woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law
The landmark ruling saw abortions decriminalized in 46 states, but under certain specific conditions which individual states could decide on. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimester but not the third (typically beyond 28 weeks).
Among pro-choice campaigners, the decision was hailed as a victory which would mean fewer women would become seriously – or even fatally – ill from abortions carried out by unqualified or unlicensed practitioners. Moreover, the freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the equality fight for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest would be able to have the pregnancy terminated and not feel coerced into motherhood.
However, pro-lifers contended it was tantamount to murder and that every life, no matter how it was conceived, is precious. Though the decision has never been overturned, anti-abortionists have prompted hundreds of states laws since then narrowing the scope of the ruling.
One such was the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned a procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
Following the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s when she revealed herself to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading, outspoken pro-abortion voice in American discourse, even working at a women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
However, she performed an unlikely U-turn in 1995, becoming a born again Christian and began traveling the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, a she filed a motion to overturn her original 1973 ruling with the U.S. district court in Dallas. The motion moved through the courts until it was ultimately denied by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died at an assisted living home in Texas in February 2017, aged 69.
‘The Heartbeat bill’
Multiple governors have signed legislation outlawing abortion if a doctor can detect a so-called ‘fetal heartbeat,’ part of a concerted effort to restrict abortion rights in states across the country.
Under the ban doctors will be prosecuted for flouting the rules.
Abortion-rights supporters see the ‘heartbeat bills’ as virtual bans because ‘fetal heartbeats’ can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not be aware they are pregnant.
Anti-abortion campaigners have intensified their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the US Supreme Court, hopeful they can convince the right-leaning court to re-examine Roe v. Wade.
Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana have enacted ‘heartbeat laws’ recently, and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May, amounting to a near total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Other states have similar legislation pending.
Similar laws has also been passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa and Kentucky, though they have been blocked by courts from going into effect as legal challenges have been brought against them.