When can fetuses start to feel pain? Nobody knows for sure, but the chief scientists at the Arizona Legislature would like to declare that it's 20 weeks.
According to some actual scientists, the concept of fetal pain can occur at 24 weeks, 26 weeks, between 29 or 30 weeks, or more than 30 weeks, among other answers.
Or, according to a 1987 article cited in House Bill 2036 by state Representative Kimberly Yee, it's 20 weeks.
HB 2036, which bans abortions past 20 weeks and imposes numerous other abortion-related regulations, is now on the desk of Governor Jan Brewer for her consideration.
If you haven't been keeping up with all the abortion priorities at the Capitol this session, this particular bill has caused a bit of controversy.
First, Yee's bill was killed in committee a while ago. Thanks to a strike-everything amendment, another bill was nuked so Yee's bill could have another shot.
Then there was state Representative Terri Proud's awkward email response to some folks asking her to vote against the bill.
"Until the dead child can tell me that she/he does not feel any pain - I have no intentions of clearing the conscience of the living - I will be voting YES," Proud said.
Then she took it a step further:
"Personally I'd like to make a law that mandates a woman watch an abortion being performed prior to having a 'surgical procedure,'" the emails said. "If it's not a life it shouldn't matter, if it doesn't harm a woman then she shouldn't care, and don't we want more transparency and education in the medical profession anyway? We demand it everywhere else."
Last week, a Nebraska woman sent a letter to the governor, asking her to veto the bill if it landed on her desk. That woman explained that Nebraska has a similar law on the books, and it wasn't exactly a "pro-life" law if you ask her, as the state law complicated her pregnancy.
Still, the 20-week abortion ban is just one of dozens of provisions the bill offers, according to a Senate fact sheet.
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Those new provisions include allowing doctors to be sued for performing abortions on minors without a notarized permission form from the parents or a court authorization, makes the Department of Health Services run a website "describing the unborn child," and forces a doctor to offer a printout of a woman's ultrasound, among many other things.
Planned Parenthood of Arizona, as you can imagine, has an opinion on this gem of legislation:
In imposing a ban on abortion at and after the 20th week of pregnancy, HB 2036 completely prevents couples from making their own decisions about how to deal with the heartbreaking situation when a pregnancy is determined to involve serious health complications.
Physicians who violate this new package of restrictions on abortion health care, even unknowingly, face criminal prosecution. That is no way to treat our community's dedicated health care providers, and threatens to aggravate Arizona's health care provider shortage as even more medical professionals leave the state rather than face politically motivated investigations.
These were among the concerns that led Representative Cecil Ash, Chairman of the House Health Committee, to hold the bill after three hours of debate in February. This respected leader of the House of Representatives' committee focused on our state's health care laws remained sufficiently concerned to send a letter to all 59 colleagues in the House this week seeking their "no" vote on the bill.
The House passed the bill today by with a 37-22 vote, and Brewer now has the final say over whether it becomes law.