Several Arizona Republicans Back Bill Requiring Homicide Charges for Abortions | Phoenix New Times

Several Arizona Republicans Back Bill Requiring Homicide Charges for Abortions

If approved, a new bill could make abortion providers and patients eligible for the death penalty in Arizona.
Walt Blackman is sponsoring a bill that would equate abortion to homicide.
Walt Blackman is sponsoring a bill that would equate abortion to homicide. Screenshot via Facebook
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Republican state Representative Walt Blackman and a host of other GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill that would force county prosecutors to file homicide charges against women who receive abortions and the doctors who perform them.

The legislation, officially titled House Bill 2650, mandates that county attorneys file homicide charges against both providers of abortion and mothers who undergo the procedure "regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal laws, regulations, treaties, court decisions or executive orders." It would classify abortion as 1st-degree premeditated murder, a charge that warrants the death penalty under existing Arizona law.

Local governments would also be barred from contracting with or issuing grants to "any person that performs abortions" or "operates a facility where abortion is performed" if the legislation were enacted. And the definition of "abortion" would be changed to include some contraceptives like intrauterine devices.

Blackman, a outspoken opponent of abortion from Snowflake who represents Legislative District 6, did not respond to Phoenix New Times' request for comment. But he famously spelled out his views in a video published on Facebook on August 25, 2020.

"If anybody goes into those centers and say they want to end a life and there is no reason to end a life other than the person is spouting, 'My body my choice,' that is murder," he said in the video. "If you want to spout, 'My body my choice,' the consequence is you need to spend some time in the Arizona penal system."

Republican state Representatives Brenda Barton (LD 6 – Snowflake), Shawnna Bolick (LD 20 – Phoenix), David Cook (LD 8 – Florence), Judy Berges (LD 1 – Prescott), Frank Carroll (LD 22 – Sun City), Jake Hoffman (LD 12 – Gilbert), and Ben Toma (LD 22 – Sun City) are co-sponsoring the bill alongside Blackman.

Democratic lawmakers and advocates for legal abortion and civil liberties have forcefully denounced the legislation as extreme, unconstitutional, and harmful.

"It is no coincidence that on the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and two days after the inauguration of a pro-reproductive rights administration that far-right conservatives of the Arizona Legislature are seeking to violate our constitution and further stigmatize people who have abortions," Murphy Bannerman, communications manager of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Democratic state Representative Raquel Terán of Glendale called the bill "cruel" and "callous" in a statement issued today.

"We see HB 2650 as an extreme piece of legislation," said Analise Ortiz, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. "It’s a direct threat to Roe v. Wade, we see it as absolutely cruel and inhumane. But more importantly, it’s unconstitutional."

She added that state lawmakers should be focused on addressing the raging COVID-19 pandemic and the related economic fallout.

"We’re in the middle of a pandemic. There are so many people in Arizona that are suffering right now, either from the virus or from unemployment," Ortiz said. "Rather than addressing those urgent priorities, the fact that the bill’s sponsors have put forward an extreme piece of legislation that they know is unconstitutional is upsetting."

Eloisa Lopez, executive director of Pro Choice Arizona and the Abortion Fund of Arizona, said that the bill is "horrific" and that its 1st-degree murder provision and potential for the death penalty is hypocritical for pro-life lawmakers.

"This just shows us that the people who are against abortion are not really about saving and protecting lives," she said. "They’re willing to turn around and propose having these horrific outcomes happen to women and providers."

Bryan Howard, the former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, called the bill "extreme law."

"Mainstream Republicans need to be asking themselves if this is really the perspective they want represented for their party," he said. "This takes the attack on abortion patients to an all-new level."

Arizona has a long history of enacting anti-abortion legislation. Laws that threatened doctors who provide abortions and women who receive them have been on the books since 1906, according to Howard. But the monumental 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which made abortions a constitutional right, nullified them. Other state laws make it harder for women to get abortions, such as a requirement that potential abortion patients receive an ultrasound or undergo a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure. Arizona also prevents health insurance plans offered on the state's health insurance exchange from covering abortions.

Howard said that, due to the current conservative slant of the U.S. Supreme Court, pro-life activists in Arizona are "creating vehicles to get cases before the court and that, were they upheld, would make abortion inaccessible in Arizona."

During the 2020 election season, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel made comments implying that she would prosecute women who receive abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned. But, following criticism, a spokesperson for her reelection campaign said that Adel would "not prosecute a woman for their healthcare decisions" and that she would "not support any law that criminalizes a woman for their health care choices" in the event that Roe v. Wade is dismantled.

Though she has not returned to work since being rushed to the hospital with bleeding in the brain on Election Night, she released a statement on Friday evening confirming her opposition to the bill.

"As County Attorney, I have been clear that I will not prosecute a woman for her healthcare choices, and I stand by this position," Adel wrote. "I do not support this bill."

When asked about Republican Governor Doug Ducey's position on the bill and whether he would veto it if it got to his desk, C.J. Karamargin, a Ducey spokesperson, said, "We don’t comment on any legislation before it gets to his desk, if it gets to his desk."

At least one notable Arizona conservative has come out against HB 2650. Cathi Herrod, the president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative pro-life group, distanced herself from the legislation in a tweet.

"I oppose any move to put the woman who seeks or has an abortion in prison," she wrote. "In the pro-life community we love both the woman and her unborn child. Both are victims."

But Blackman seemed bullish about getting the bill moved through the Legislature during a pro-life rally at the Capitol today. "It will not be amended," he reportedly said. "This bill's gonna take a minute to get through."

(This story was updated after publication with comment from Allister Adel.)
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