Following lead of Mississippi, ban on abortion after 15 weeks passes Arizona Senate with Republican support

Stacey Barchenger
Arizona Republic

Lee en español

Buoyed by the belief the U.S. Supreme Court will chip away at abortion rights in the coming months, the Arizona Senate on Tuesday passed a bill that would prohibit the procedure after 15 weeks except in certain circumstances.

Senate Bill 1164, sponsored by Phoenix Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, is similar but not identical to a bill passed in Mississippi that included a 15-week ban, which was challenged before the nation's highest court. The bill passed Arizona's narrowly divided Senate with a 16-13 party-line vote, with Republicans in support.

If the bill becomes law, it would prevent hundreds of abortions in Arizona each year.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix

The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. If approved there it will land on Republican Gov. Doug Ducey's desk and likely be signed into law.

Abortions would only be allowed after 15 weeks in cases of medical emergency under the bill. A medical emergency includes life-threatening conditions and those that "create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function."

More:Ban on abortions after 15 weeks advances at Arizona Legislature as Supreme Court weighs major case

Arizona doctors who perform the procedure after 15 weeks would be subject to prosecution for a Class 6 felony, and face revocation or suspension of their medical licenses. The bill includes no exemptions for cases of rape or incest.

Legislation similar to Mississippi's ban were introduced in 11 other states this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights.

Barto said she believed the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the nearly 50-year-old precedent set in Roe v. Wade that allowed abortions, as some expect it could do in the Mississippi case.

"We're hoping," Barto said. But copying Mississippi's law in the meantime would "give us an opportunity in Arizona to protect more unborn lives," she said. If Roe is overturned, it is likely a pre-statehood law that mandates prison time for anyone who helps a woman get an abortion would take effect.

Republican Sen. Tyler Pace, of Mesa, voted in favor of the bill. Last year, his hesitancy over a bill banning abortions based on genetic abnormalities temporarily stalled the measure, though it ultimately was passed with his amendments and is now caught up in court challenges.

Pace's objection last year stemmed from subjecting doctors to criminal penalties, and requiring laypeople on juries to determine whether doctors had followed the law. There's a similar provision in Barto's current legislation, but Pace said he voted in favor of the 15-week ban because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling would provide clarity about what is and isn't legal.

All Democrats oppose bill 

Democrats uniformly opposed the bill, with several Arizona lawmakers noting that under current U.S. Supreme Court precedent the tenets of the bill are unconstitutional.

"With reproductive freedom under threat nationally, we need to be very aware that Arizonans are in danger of losing our rights and access overnight, so I hope people are paying attention," said Sen. Raquel Terán, D-Phoenix and chair of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Senate Democrats warned that limiting abortion access would disproportionately harm low-income women and women of color, and decried the lack of exceptions in cases of rape or incest.

"Until we find a way to completely stop rape and incest, we cannot put barriers in place for those survivors to have the freedom to dictate their own futures," Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, said.

Reach reporter Stacey Barchenger at stacey.barchenger@arizonarepublic.com or 480-416-5669. Follow her on Twitter @sbarchenger.

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