Arizona lawmakers vote to ban late-term abortions

PHOENIX Tue Apr 10, 2012 7:25pm EDT

A pro-life supporter holds up a sign during a rally in New York March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

A pro-life supporter holds up a sign during a rally in New York March 23, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

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PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona state lawmakers gave final legislative approval on Tuesday to a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, handing Republicans their latest win in ongoing national efforts to impose greater restrictions on abortion.

The measure, passed in the state House of Representatives by a 37-22 vote, would bar healthcare professionals from performing abortions after 20 weeks, except in the case of a medical emergency. The bill now goes to the state's Republican governor for approval.

If the bill is enacted, the state would join six others that have put similar late-term abortion bans in place in the past two years based on hotly debated medical research suggesting that a fetus feels pain starting at 20 weeks of gestation.

Georgia lawmakers approved a similar bill in March that now awaits the signature of Republican Governor Nathan Deal.

"The chief purpose of government is to protect life and liberty, and this bill does just that," said Cathi Herrod, the president of the conservative Center for Arizona Policy, adding that the bill aimed to "protect the life of a woman considering an abortion as well as the life of her pre-born child."

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, said she had a "strong and consistent pro-life record," but she has not yet publicly announced her position on the bill.

While barring most late-term abortions, the Arizona law would allow them in situations where continuing a pregnancy risks death or would "create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

This would be determined by a physician's "good faith clinical judgment."

Bryan Howard, the president of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said the bill and several others sent to the governor continued an "unprecedented attack" on women and their healthcare in recent years.

Howard said the ban "completely prevents couples from making their own decisions about how to deal with the heartbreaking situation when a pregnancy is determined to involve serious health complications."

He said the law could also drive badly needed medical professionals from the state. Only a small number of abortions are performed in Arizona after 20 weeks.

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortions nationwide in 1973 but allowed states to ban the procedure after the time when the fetus could survive outside the womb, unless the pregnancy risked the woman's health

In addition to banning most late-term abortions, the bill would also require women to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to an abortion, instead of the one hour that is currently mandated under state law.

Additionally, state officials would be required to create a website that details such items as the risks of the procedure and shows pictures of the fetus in various stages.

Representative Katie Hobbs, a Phoenix Democrat, called the measure another example of how conservative Tea Party lawmakers are "too extreme and too focused on their rigid ideology."

"This bill ignores the health risks that some women face during pregnancy and pushes an extremist agenda," said Hobbs, moments after the vote. "There are serious medical implications associated with this legislation. I urge the governor to veto this bill."

(Reporting By David Schwartz.; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)

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