PHOENIX (CN) – An Arizona House panel approved a bill Wednesday evening to require doctors to perform life-saving measures on a fetus or embryo if it still has a heartbeat following an abortion procedure.
Senate Bill 1367 requires doctors who perform abortions to use "all available means and medical skills ... to promote, preserve and maintain the life of a fetus or embryo" if it is delivered alive. Under the bill, "delivered alive" is defined as a fetus that is breathing, has a heartbeat, has umbilical cord pulsation, or the definite movement of voluntary muscles.
Critics of the bill say it will unfairly target women who receive abortions due to lethal fetal conditions where the fetus is not expected to survive minutes or hours after childbirth, or women who undergo abortions to save their own lives.
The measure, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa, is supported by the conservative Center for Arizona Policy.
After two hours of passionate public debate, the Arizona House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee advanced the bill on a 6-3 vote along party lines.
During the hearing, Smith testified about two instances where he said a fetus was alive following an abortion but did not receive medical care.
"Here you have a woman who went in, had an abortion, baby survives, baby lives, baby is alive," Smith told the panel of one incident. In that case, the fetus was alive for over an hour without medical care, he said.
"An hour and 18 minutes a living, human being child lay on effectively a cold steel table until it died with no medical attention given to it, with doctors nearby. That's pretty disheartening to say the least," Smith said.
In another incident, he told the panel an abortion clinic called 911 when a fetus was reported to be breathing.
"By the time the paramedics got there and got to the hospital, baby died," Smith said. Both incidents are cited in the bill.
"The bill is simply saying when there is an abortion, if the baby lives we aren't talking abortions anymore," he continued. "Can we just exact a little bit of medical care to this child?"
Steve Barclay, on behalf of the Arizona Medical Association, told the panel that doctors are concerned how they will balance the bill's requirements in situations where the fetus is not expected to live due to lethal fetal conditions.
"It calls into question some very difficult circumstances," Barclay said.
Doctors who "are trying to bring babies into the world could have some responsibility and have a difficult time balancing between this clear mandate to use all available means and medical skill, when you have situations like lethal fetal conditions where the baby is not going to survive and that efforts to resuscitate it are going to be futile, when you have a medical abortion because of the risk of the life of the mother which is also covered in statute, and also true medical emergencies," he said.
Peter Stevenson, a neonatologist, testified before the panel about his concerns for viability of a fetus born before 23 weeks.
"Fetuses born at 20 and 21 weeks gestation have a zero percent chance of survival," Stevenson said. At 22 weeks, only 11 percent of fetuses are expected to survive under the most optimal medical conditions, he testified.
"It is unethical and against the physician's oath to do no harm to provide anything more invasive or extensive then comfort measures alone. Beyond that it is up to the family and the doctor to come together," Stevenson said. "We recognize that the goal of the bill is compassionate; however, our concern is that it will accomplish only the opposite: that is pain and suffering to fetuses and infants who have no reasonable opportunity for survival."
The bill now moves to a full vote of the Arizona House. It already passed the Arizona Senate on Feb. 22, on an 18-12 vote.
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