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As Lawmakers Debate Warrantless Searches of Abortion Clinics, a Search Warrant Is Served

As Lawmakers Debate Warrantless Searches of Abortion Clinics, a Search Warrant Is Served
Matthew Hendley

While Republican lawmakers are arguing that it's necessary to allow warrantless searches of abortion clinics in Arizona, the first warranted search of an abortion clinic in several years just recently took place.

The Associated Press, which reported this fact, noted the coincidence that this warrant just happened to get served when lawmakers were starting to debate this bill, which is being pushed by the Center for Arizona Policy.

See also:
-Arizona House Passes Bill to Allow Warrantless Searches of Abortion Clinics
-Activists Call on Legislators to Cut Ties With the Center for Arizona Policy

According to the AP, the administrative warrant served by state health officials at a Planned Parenthood location was obtained "in response to a low-priority report," filed nearly a year ago, "about a complication that a patient experienced." The report says no citations have been issued.

Planned Parenthood of Arizona President Bryan Howard told the AP it looks like the Department of Health Services just got the warrant so one of its employees could testify on the abortion bill three days later, about how burdensome it was to obtain a warrant.

Democratic legislators have argued that this proposed bill would just open the door for an anti-abortion state health department employee to endlessly harass or disrupt abortion clinics.

Howard, who testified yesterday at the Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing on the bill yesterday, said it seems like the system with warrants is bad enough.

"With recent developments, it is clear the current system that requires a warrant can be abused and manipulated," he said. "Imagine what would happen in a warrantless environment without a judicial check on regulatory authority."

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. As you can imagine, some see it differently -- there are no other medical facilities targeted by ideologues quite like abortion clinics are. (Nobody firebombs the gastroenterologist's office.)

This bill 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, but Planned Parenthood disagrees -- meaning a lawsuit would be likely.

The bill, which already passed the House, was passed by that Senate committee yesterday, along party lines.

"This bill is not about safety or women," Howard said. "This is about chipping away at abortion access and continuing to stigmatize women who decide on abortion and the physicians who provide this care. It is also about leaving both patients and providers vulnerable to harassment."

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