The Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill yesterday to allow the state health department to conduct warrantless searches of abortion clinics, among other things.
This comes less than a week after Governor Jan Brewer vetoed Senate Bill 1062, pointing out that it had nothing to do with her legislative priorities, like passing a budget and fixing Child Protective Services. This abortion bill, House Bill 2284, is pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy, the same force behind SB 1062.
This is the second Center for Arizona Policy-supported bill to be passed by the House in the week since Brewer's veto, and multiple protests of the Center for Arizona Policy. The other was another tax break for religious organizations, which is expected to cost the state up to $2.1 million in 2016.
This abortion bill the House has passed isn't a new concept. The Center for Arizona Policy lobbied for a similar bill that was passed more than a decade ago but was overturned in court (one of four anti-abortion bills pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy that were defended using taxpayer money, and were overturned in court).
The Center for Arizona Policy contends that the circumstances are different now, given changes in way the state health department regulates abortion clinics.
The Democrats who argued against the bill didn't see it that way. They cite one of the legislative attorneys, who said the constitutionality of the bill this year (and when it was proposed last year) is questionable. Given that, there's a good likelihood of a lawsuit if this bill becomes law.
Planned Parenthood Arizona doesn't believe the bill's constitutional either.
"HB 2284 reveals a larger pattern in which well-funded interest groups with narrow social agendas influence legislators to pass unconstitutional laws that damage our state's reputation and cost taxpayers millions of dollars," Planned Parenthood Arizona president Bryan Howard says in a statement. "Destructive patterns from these extremist groups are reckless and are hurting Arizona, as seen in the recent Arizona State Legislature's approval of SB 1062."
Democratic Representative Lisa Otondo said this was a situation of a "special interest group pushing legislation to solve a problem that simply doesn't exist."
"This bill is a slap in the face to women and to taxpayers," she said.
One of the sponsors of the bill, Republican Representative Debbie Lesko, insisted that this is just an effort to hold abortion clinics to the same standard as every other type of medical facility in the state, which can be searched without a warrant at the direction of the health department.
There's a bit of a difference between an abortion clinic and, say, a podiatrist's office. No one protests outside the podiatrist's office or makes a political point of podiatry or makes it their life goal to end podiatry.
Democratic Representative Bruce Wheeler said this bill just opens the door to abuse of a potential anti-abortion ideologue at the health department who can "endlessly disrupt" an abortion clinic.
Wheeler pointed out that the health department is allowed to do unannounced inspections; they just need the warrant first.
"This is not the answer, period. I don't care what side you're on," House Minority Leader Chad Campbell said. "This is going to lead to suffering and harassment of people who are doing something very difficult."
Democratic Representative Martin Quezada, an attorney, took issue with a provision in the bill that allows a county or city attorney to defend the bill in court, which could happen if the state Attorney General's Office declined to defend it. Quezada claimed it would just "politicize" the lawsuit.
"[The state is] going to find the most politically extreme attorney. . .and we're going to get that individual to represent it in court," Quezada said. "That's a horrible precedent."
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The bill passed by a 34-22 vote, and now heads over to the Senate.
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