Arizona Capitol

Bill Mandating Jail for Abortion Doctors Nears Governor Ducey's Desk

State Senator Nancy Barto is the sponsor of SB 1457.
State Senator Nancy Barto is the sponsor of SB 1457.
click to enlarge The Arizona State Capitol. - SEAN HOLSTEGE
The Arizona State Capitol.
Sean Holstege
In a party-line vote, the Arizona House of Representatives passed an amended version of a sweeping bill on Thursday that would, among other things, threaten doctors who perform certain abortions with jail time.

As originally written, the legislation, Senate Bill 1457, would make performing an abortion based on a "genetic abnormality" a Class 3 felony, a charge that comes with a minimum prison sentence of 2.5 years. It also would ban the delivery of abortion pills by mail, prevent public educational institutions from providing pro-abortion counseling or making referrals for abortions, and give fetuses the same legal rights as children and adults.

However, prior to the bill's passage, lawmakers amended it to reduce the criminal penalty to a Class 6 felony, which can garner a lesser sentence of a minimum of six months up to a maximum of 1.5 years in prison. The legislation now heads back to the Arizona Senate for final passage. If it's passed in the Senate, it would head to Governor Doug Ducey's desk for his final signature or veto.

Republican Senator Nancy Barto, the bill's sponsor, did not respond to New Times' request for comment on the changes to the legislation or the Senate's timeline for voting on the legislation. Spokespersons for Ducey also did not respond to requests for comment on the governor's position on the bill.

click to enlarge State Senator Nancy Barto is the sponsor of SB 1457. - AZLEG.GOV
State Senator Nancy Barto is the sponsor of SB 1457.
Pro-abortion advocates say that the legislation, even as amended, is dangerous and unconstitutional.

"It would still jail doctors, it would still allow the father to sue a doctor who performs an abortion, and it would still force people to carry a pregnancy to term against their will," said Murphy Bannerman, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona. "With the amendments added this bill is still very extreme."

Notably, the bill would make soliciting or accepting money to finance an abortion based on a "genetic abnormality" a Class 3 felony, a change that critics say could result in criminal charges for women who have to ask family or spouses for money to pay for an abortion. The language unfairly targets poor and working-class women who get abortions, while women who can pay for them avoid criminal charges, they say.

"Singling out working-class women and women in poverty for possible imprisonment because they seek abortion care while women who are rich and have means do not face that consequence is really discriminatory," said Darrell Hill, policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona.

Hill argued that the bill's broad granting of rights to fetuses could have unintended legal consequences, like women getting charged with crimes against children for doing anything that could jeopardize the fetus.

"The personhood part of the bill has broad and I think unforeseen consequences for persons seeking abortion care and other portions of law," he said.

The bill had seemed dead more than a week ago when Republican state Representative Regina Cobb told her colleagues that she couldn't support the original bill because it went too far, according to the Associated Press. However, she introduced the amendment that reduced the criminal penalty for doctors who provide "genetic abnormality"-based abortions and ultimately voted for the bill alongside the rest of the Republican majority caucus. Cobb did not respond to New Times' request for comment.

Naturally, pro-life advocates are thrilled with the bill's movement.

"A major pro-life bill designed to protect the most vulnerable from discrimination, protect the safety and well-being of women, and establish the value of all human life in Arizona law is just one step away from Governor Ducey’s desk," Cathi Herrod, president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, said in a news release issued following the bill's passage in the House. "I urge the AZ Senate to give the bill a final pass and send it to Governor Ducey’s desk."

The legislation is one of many anti-abortion bills that Republican lawmakers in Arizona have pushed this year, including a highly controversial bill that sought to force prosecutors to file homicide charges against women who get abortions and the doctors who perform them. Pro-choice advocates say that Republicans are trying to pass legally questionable bills to garner lawsuits and get cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the monumental 1973 ruling that enshrined a woman's right to get an abortion.

"Multiple Republicans talked about how they don't believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and they believe that this is a vehicle to get to this Supreme Court," Democratic state Representative Athena Salman said in reference to debate among lawmakers before the floor vote in the House. "The Republicans openly admitted that they’re queuing up to waste taxpayer's money to use this bill as a vehicle to try and get the court to rewrite Roe v. Wade."
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety