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Arizona Republicans prime abortion bill ahead of historic Supreme Court decision

Doctors who perform abortions after 15 weeks could face felony charges under the bill advanced by Arizona Republicans.

PHOENIX (CN) — An Arizona Senate committee voted Thursday to advance an abortion bill that would shorten the elective period of abortion to 15 weeks amid Supreme Court deliberations in overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Republican-majority committee voted 5-3 along party lines Thursday to pass Senate Bill 1164, which would bring felony charges against doctors who perform an abortion after 15 weeks except in the case of an emergency. 

The divided floor took comments from the public to lobby both sides of the issue. For pro-choice advocates, they see the bill as unfair based on privilege. 

“As long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions,” said Marilyn Rodriguez with Creosote on behalf of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. “Folks with privilege like you and me, Mr. Chairman, we will always have the means to travel abroad to places where abortion is safe and legal, when and if needed. But for those who cannot afford to do so, you are voting today to decide whether those who cannot afford to do so will continue to have the option of safe and legal access to abortions in Arizona.”

Some of the bill’s advocates believe that shortening the limit to 15 weeks would insulate women’s health outcomes.

“For the past 25 centuries, the Hippocratic Oath stood unamended and uncontested as the template for medical practice. The Hippocratic Oath states that I will not give a woman an abortive remedy,” said Dr. Alan Sawyer, Arizona state director of the American Academy of Medical Ethics. “Obstetricians know that later-term abortions correlate with multiple risks to the woman's health. Senate Bill 1164 sensibly acts to protect women by reducing the risk of maternal trauma and hemorrhage associated with abortion by instituting this gestational age limit at 15 weeks.”

State Senator Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, whose wife lost a twin child during childbirth, challenged Sawyer over concerns for spousal health.

“If at any point in time I'm there and a doctor comes up to me and tells me, you have a choice to make, it's either your wife or your unborn child, I don't want anyone else here making that decision for me,” Contreras said.

Sawyer conceded the point and noted the bill has an emergency clause that would afford the mother a termination option if there is a danger to her life.

The bill will move to the floor for a second read. If passed, it'll be one of many recent laws across the nation that has publicly challenged the precedent of the 1973 Supreme Court holding in Roe.

This past December, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that could lead to a landmark ruling on abortion access for women across the country. The case centers on a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy and challenges the legal precedent of Roe.

In oral arguments, Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted the court had decided cases before that reversed precedent.

“Why then doesn't the history of this court's practice with respect to those cases tell us that the right answer is actually the return to the position of neutrality, and not stick with those precedents in the same way that all those other cases didn't,” Kavanaugh asked. 

The last time the Supreme Court took a challenge to Roe occurred in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, the justices ruled 5-4 to keep Roe largely intact.

SB 1164's sponsor believes the bill will save lives.

“We need to look at this issue in terms of how lives can be saved, and this is the next step,” said state Senator Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix. “(This is) a very common-sense way of saving lives in Arizona. I’m so looking forward to the Dobbs decision because I think Arizona is ready, ready for common sense. I vote aye.”

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