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Republican Legislators Put Botched Democratic Abortion Bill on Trial

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Allen, a Republican, sparred with the sponsor of a bill relating to abortion on February 20.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Allen, a Republican, sparred with the sponsor of a bill relating to abortion on February 20.
ACTV

Sensing a political opportunity, Arizona Republican legislators on Wednesday seized on a flawed Democratic attempt to repeal Arizona's fetal resuscitation law, using the bill to highlight the issue of abortion.

The author of the measure, Democratic Representative Raquel Terán, protested their efforts, saying an error altered the bill's intended purpose.

Although the bill had no chance of passing and the sponsor had abandoned the measure, Republicans brought it up at a public hearing that turned into a show trial, relentlessly criticizing the bill and suggesting Democrats were bent on expanding abortion.

Terán said she sought to repeal a controversial law passed two years ago that requires doctors to act to save a fetus or embryo delivered alive during an abortion under specific circumstances, such as if there are signs of breathing, a heartbeat, or umbilical cord pulsation.

But as written, her bill HB 2696 went beyond the 2017 law.

Terán said the bill inadvertently repealed an entire section of state law that dates back decades and relates to a baby "delivered alive" after an attempted abortion. The statute requires doctors to use "all available means and medical skills" to "promote, preserve and maintain the life of such a fetus or embryo."

The 2017 legislation defined "delivered alive" to include a fetus or embryo that shows any of the aforementioned signs of life, even if a woman chose to terminate her pregnancy in an early phase of development.

Republicans scheduled the bill for consideration at Wednesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing, where an apologetic Terán blamed political gamesmanship for why the bill had been brought forward.

"I know we don't have the votes to move this bill," Terán said. "I actually spoke to a member of this committee. The member of the committee said to me that today was going to be a circus, and they intended to be part of the circus."

She repeatedly asked the chair of the Judiciary Committee, Representative John Allen, to remove the bill from consideration.

He refused, calling the issue at stake a "core value."

"The idea that you drop a bill and never want it to be heard is not lawmaking," Allen said as he cast his vote at the hearing. "It's politics."

Allen acknowledged Terán's opposition to having the committee vote on the proposal, but said he wanted to bring the bill forward to defend his position on abortion and the 2017 law.

"This bill was put in for purposes that I objected to, and I've used it to demonstrate our different worldviews," Allen said.

"The leadership of the Democrat Party in the state of Arizona signed off on this," Representative Walter Blackman, a Republican, said at the hearing. "I understand the discussion did not want to be heard from the other side, but I am thankful that it was heard."

In an email last week to the Democratic members of the House who co-sponsored her measure, Terán explained her rationale for the bill and apologized for any misunderstanding. She attributed her motivation for repealing the 2017 law on fetal resuscitation to her sister's experience losing a child in pregnancy.

"For me, and the women impacted by this law, this bill is highly personal not political," Teran wrote in the email on Friday.

"My sister miscarried in her 24th week of pregnancy. Her baby had no hope of survival, and she wanted to spend those last few moments together. Under the fetal resuscitation law, that baby would be taken from her arms for hopeless medical procedures. This is a choice that should remain with the mother and her doctor, not the government."

The bill failed in the committee hearing on an 8-0 vote. Two members of the committee, Domingo DeGrazia and Kirsten Engel, voted "present."

Before the morning committee hearing, long lines of anti-abortion protesters gathered outside of the State Capitol. Meanwhile, the Arizona Republican Party used the botched repeal bill to assail the Democrats who put their names behind the measure.

A tweet from the party account characterized Terán's proposal as "a pro-abortion bill that would allow babies born alive during botched abortions to be left alone to die, without life-saving medical care."

The GOP named first-term Representative Jennifer Pawlik, a Democrat, and asked why she would not "publicly condemn this disgusting legislation."

Representative Kelly Townsend, a staunch conservative from Mesa, posted a photo on Facebook to protest HB 2696 that showed her with two teardrops etched under her right eye – never mind that in the context of prisons and gangs, the teardrop tattoo generally means the wearer has committed murder or received a long sentence.

(Townsend told the Arizona Republic she is aware of the tattoo's meaning and called the teardrops a "visible reminder of how sad it is that some advocate for infanticide.")

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Inside the hearing room, conservative members of the committee and members of the public opposed to abortion spoke out against the bill.

Cathi Herrod, the president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, opposed the bill. Her organization, which helped draft the 2017 law, released a statement last week comparing the bill to recent legislation on abortion in Virginia and New York.

Like Allen, Herrod argued that the 2017 law did not relate to miscarriages.

"Woman who have miscarriages – it's a tragedy, but this is not about miscarriages," Herrod told committee members. 

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