Under a bill advancing in the Arizona Legislature, doctors would be required to attempt to save the life of an embryo or fetus if it's born with a heartbeat — even if the efforts are certain to be futile.
Under a bill advancing in the Arizona Legislature, doctors would be required to attempt to save the life of an embryo or fetus if it's born with a heartbeat — even if the efforts are certain to be futile.
Lunar Caustic via Flickr

Arizona SB 1367: 'Fetus Torture Bill' or 'Desperately Needed' Life-Saving Measure?

UPDATE: Governor Doug Ducey signed this bill into law on April 1.

To Cathi Herrod and the Center for Arizona Policy, the proposed law is "Delivered Alive Infant Clarification."

Local women's-rights activist Kristy King calls it the "fetus torture bill."

The bill, SB 1367, would force abortion clinics to take expensive measures to preserve the life of an aborted fetus or embryo that, after being removed from a women's body, still has a heartbeat.

On Wednesday, the bill passed the Arizona House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee along party lines. It passed out of the Arizona Senate on February 22 on an 18-12 vote. The bill still needs to pass a full House vote and be signed by Governor Doug Ducey to become law.

The Center for Arizona Policy says it's a "desperately needed" measure based on media reports of late-term abortions gone wrong.

The bill would strengthen and give teeth to a 1975 law that requires doctors to use "all available means and medical skills" to save the live of a fetus or embryo that is "delivered alive." Although the bill targets abortions, it also would apply to all premature births.

If adequate life-saving measures aren't taken, either parent of the fetus, or in some cases a grandparent, could sue the involved doctors or clinic staff for negligence or misconduct.

"Delivered alive," the bill explains, means that "regardless of gestational development," the fetus or embryo shows "any evidence of life" such as a heartbeat, breathing, umbilical cord pulsation or movement of voluntary muscles.

Such cases are rare, but Herrod's group points to the 2015 case of a woman who faked having cancer to get a state-funded abortion. The aborted fetus in that case was 22 weeks old and delivered vaginally, but received no lifesaving measures over 20 minutes before dying, as Gary Grado of the Arizona Capitol Times covered in a 2015 article.

However, the law would also apply to hundreds of cases each year in which women elect to have an abortion because the fetus has been diagnosed with signs of severely abnormal development and isn't expected to survive after birth.

In 2013, a federal court ruling struck down an Arizona law banning abortions after 20 weeks, but "Delivered Alive" makes an end-run around that decision.

Clinics that perform abortions for women more than 20 weeks pregnant would need to own or purchase medical equipment that could assist in saving the fetuses or embryos.

Dr. Peter Stevenson, the neonatal medical director at Scottsdale Healthcare Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, submitted a letter to the House committee asking lawmakers to consider various facts before making their decision.

He pointed out that the 1975 law's standard of viability has meant that lifesaving procedures are taken only when a delivered fetus is 22-23 weeks old.

"Using our most recent statistics babies born at 20-21 weeks gestation have a zero percent chance of survival," he wrote. "Compulsion or perceived compulsion to provide additional therapies which are futile and outside standard of care, and which only serve to cause pain and suffering to the fetus/infant, the family, and the providers, is unconscionable and counter-productive."

That unpleasant likelihood is why Kristy King, who went to the Arizona Capitol on Wednesday with other activists to protest the bill. compares medical procedures on an nonviable fetus "torture."

"It's ghastly," she said. "It's clearly intended on its face to make it more difficult for abortion clinics to stay in business in Arizona."

Below: The latest Arizona Senate fact sheet on SB 1367

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