(Headline USA) Republicans who control the Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, revising state rules ahead of a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision that could bring seismic changes to abortion in the United States.
Meanwhile, the GOP-led Senate in Arkansas rejected a similar push for an abortion ban modeled after a pair of Texas and Mississippi heartbeat laws that offer pro-lifers their best hope in half a century of overturning the controversial Roe vs. Wade decision.
Arizona’s vote came over objections from minority Democrats who claimed the measure was unconstitutional.
They also claimed any ban would disproportionally impact poor and minority women who won’t be able to travel to Democratic states where abortions remain in place.
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“I understand the hopes of what the Supreme Court will do from from your side of the aisle,” Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada said. “But as it stands today, right now, is this law constitutional or not?”
“I believe it is. I believe it is,” countered Sen. Nancy Barto, the Republican sponsor of the bill. “I believe our constitution stands clearly for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and the first part of that is life.”
Barto said she hopes the high court upholds a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks it is now weighing.
“The state has an obligation to protect life, and that is what this bill is about,” Barto said during debate. “A 15-week-old baby in the womb has a fully formed nose, lips, eyelids, they suck their thumbs. They feel pain. That’s what this bill is about.”
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Barto’s bill would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion after 15 weeks but would prohibit the prosecution of women for receiving one.
Doctors could face felony charges and lose their license to practice medicine. There is an exception for cases when the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury, but not for instances of rape or incest.
Arizona already has some of the nation’s most life-affirming laws, including one that would automatically outlaw it if the high court fully overturns Roe.
Republicans hope to put the 15-week ban in place so it takes effect quickly if the Supreme Court further limits abortion rights but stops short of fully overturning Roe.
Under current abortion rulings, abortion is legal until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.
Quezada, who represents parts of Glendale, said lawmakers should let the court rule first.
“If we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court does, let’s wait to see what the Supreme Court actually does before we start trying to change these laws,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re spinning our wheels right now.”
The bill now moves to the state House, where majority Republicans also routinely back restrictions on abortion. If passed there, it goes to Gov. Doug Ducey’s desk. The Republican opposes abortion and has signed every related bill that has reached his desk in the past seven sessions.
Of the 13,186 abortions performed in Arizona in 2020, 636 were after 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
A proposal to mirror a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks has also been introduced in Arizona but has not advanced in the Legislature.
The measure is unique in that it allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone else get an abortion after six weeks. It has made legal challenges difficult because the government is not involved in enforcement.
In Arkansas, however, the Senate rejected resolutions that would have allowed lawmakers to take up legislation banning abortion except to save the life of a mother in a medical emergency. Like Texas’s ban, the measure would be enforced by private citizens filing lawsuits.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has signed several major abortion restrictions since taking office in 2015, said lawmakers should wait and see how the Supreme Court rules on the 15-week ban in Mississippi.
But supporters of the ban said there’s no guarantee of that, and said Texas’ approach offers a new path for the state to prevent women from getting abortions while the high court considers that case.
“No one knows what the Supreme Court will decide, they don’t know what that decision will be in June,” Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield told lawmakers before the vote.
The state last year enacted 20 abortion laws, the most in the country and tied with Louisiana’s 1978 record for the most in a single year, according to the far-left Guttmacher Institute.
One of those measures, banning nearly all abortions, has been blocked by a federal judge.
Sen. Jim Hendren, an independent who has backed other abortion restrictions but voted against the resolutions Tuesday, noted the disagreement among abortion opponents about taking up the Texas-style ban now.
The head of the Arkansas Family Council, a conservative group that has lobbied for other bans, has spoken against the proposals over concerns about the impact it could have on other bans in Arkansas.
“There’s a lot of division about the best approach and to try to undertake that in the middle of a fiscal session that’s not even designed to have that type of debate, I think you saw from membership that most people don’t think that’s a good idea,” Hendren, who is Hutchinson’s nephew, said.
The resolutions both failed on 12-16 votes, falling far short of the 24 votes needed in the 35-member Senate.
The abortion bans need support of two-thirds of lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature to be considered during the fiscal session, which is intended to focus on the state’s budget.
The votes marked the second day in a row the proposed bans faced a setback in the Legislature, which began its session on Monday. Efforts to take up similar proposals failed before a House panel a day earlier.
The ban could still come back up, with similar proposals still pending in the Senate and House. Arkansas is among several states where lawmakers have proposed bans modeled after Texas’ law.
“We will be voting again on this issue,” Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, who sponsored similar measures, told reporters after the vote.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press