Arizona Capitol

Arizona Law Would Require Women to Disclose Why They Want an Abortion

Reproductive rights activists, inspired by The Handmaid's Tale, protest SB 1394 outside the state capitol.
Reproductive rights activists, inspired by The Handmaid's Tale, protest SB 1394 outside the state capitol. Antonia Farzan
In the freedom-loving state of Arizona, where it's no one's damn business how many guns you've got stockpiled at your off-the-grid cabin in the hills outside of town, lawmakers have decided that they now need to know specific details about why women are exercising their legal right to have an abortion.

Senate Bill 1394, introduced by Republican Nancy Barto of Phoenix, requires doctors to ask their patients why they want an abortion, and report that information to the Arizona Department of Health. It includes several possibilities to choose from, such as "The pregnancy was the result of rape" and "Relationship issues, including abuse, separation, divorce, and extramarital affairs."

The bill has already passed through the Arizona Senate. It will be heard in the House Committee for Judiciary and Public Safety this afternoon.

Granted, the Department of Health wouldn't get patients' names or identifying details. But it's still pretty rich that the idea has garnered support from Republican legislators who supposedly are against government overreach.

"The fact that these elected officials are demanding doctors interrogate women about their personal medical decisions is big government being Big Brother," Serene Knierim, a one-time abortion patient, said at a press conference organized by Planned Parenthood Arizona on Tuesday.

The right to privacy is enshrined in our constitution, yet this overreaching legislature wants to invade mine? Health care decisions are personal. Family planning decisions are personal."

Added Representative Kirstin Engel, a Democrat from Tucson, "This not only intrudes on a women's privacy, but inserts government into the doctor-patient relationship."

The bill was developed by Cathi Herrod, an anti-abortion fanatic whose Center for Arizona Policy is responsible for many of the laws that make Arizona one the toughest states to get an abortion.
Herrod told KJZZ that having better data would simply mean better services for women who are considering having an abortion. This is a profoundly disingenuous statement, since Herrod's organization exists solely to roll back reproductive rights to the way they were in the 1960s. (In fairness, CAP also hates gay people. But in recent years, its lobbying work has focused on trying to erode abortion access.)

"The anti-choice movement to erode women's reproductive rights has not done a single thing to improve women's health, and they certainly are not turning over a new leaf with Senate Bill 1394," House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, a Democrat from south Phoenix, said Tuesday. "They will do and say anything to stop women from exercising their rights to reproductive health."

Currently, the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. Asking women why they're having an abortion does nothing to solve this problem — which you'd think would be the most pressing concern of the allegedly "pro-life" crowd.

"It's a bad joke to ask women about the reasons for their abortions when you have no intention of ever addressing any of those needs, now or in the future," Jodi Liggett, the vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said Tuesday.

One reason why a woman might want an abortion, she pointed out, is because she can't afford to raise a child. And Arizona has relentlessly slashed funds for social welfare programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

It's also worth noting that if you want there to be fewer abortions, one way to do it would be to improve access to birth control.

"We know that birth control prevents unplanned pregnancy, it's that simple," Liggett said. "Yet this legislature and this governor have been tireless in their efforts over the years to dismantle our Affordable Care Act in any way that they can, to kick Planned Parenthood out of the Medicaid program, and to prevent Title X patients from coming to our centers for care."

So far, bills introduced by Democrats that would have allowed doctors to prescribe 12 months' worth of birth control pills at a time and made contraception more affordable have gone nowhere this session.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Arizona Public Health Association, and the Arizona Medical Association have all opposed SB 1394.

"It sets up a confrontational dynamic between patients and doctors," said Kat Sabine, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona, speaking on behalf of the state's four independent abortion providers.

Arizona already requires abortion clinics to hand over data about the age, race, ethnicity, educational background, and marital status of their patients, as well as how many pregnancies, miscarriages, and abortions they've had in the past. But medical providers typically ask for that information anyway, Liggett said.

"That's fundamentally different than what we're talking about here, which is an interrogation designed to make a patient feel as if there are valid or invalid reasons for having an abortion," she said. "There is no medical need for this process whatsoever."

So what's the point? Making it harder for abortion clinics to stay open.

"Every year we see a new law, a new burden," Representative Athena Salman, a Democrat from Tempe, pointed out.

Looked at individually, these regulations may not seem too demanding — what's the big deal about asking one extra question, anyway? — but the cumulative effect of adding more and more red tape is that you wind up legislating abortion providers out of business. (Apparently, Governor Doug Ducey's quest to deregulate Arizona does not extend to Planned Parenthood clinics.)

Planned Parenthood has successfully challenged other anti-abortion legislation in court, which means that lawmakers' desire to prevent women from making their own decisions about their own bodies just ends up being a colossal waste of public money.

According to the Arizona Capitol Times, the state has spent roughly $2.32 million on legal fees over the past eight years while defending anti-abortion legislation that ultimately got overturned.

"My colleagues and I are certainly going to take a hard look at this," Liggett said. "We do not believe that there is any constitutional basis, or any relationship to health and safety, for asking a woman why she's having an abortion."

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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.

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