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Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs sweeping anti-abortion bill into law

Arizona Republic logo Arizona Republic 4/28/2021 Maria Polletta, Arizona Republic
Doug Ducey wearing a suit and tie sitting in front of a curtain: March 22, 2021; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Governor Doug Ducey speaks at the 2021 Wildfire Season Outlook Briefing at the Arizona State Capitol on March 22, 2021. Credit: Meg Potter/The Arizona Republic © Meg Potter/The Republic March 22, 2021; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Governor Doug Ducey speaks at the 2021 Wildfire Season Outlook Briefing at the Arizona State Capitol on March 22, 2021. Credit: Meg Potter/The Arizona Republic

Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday signed a contentious bill making it a crime to perform abortions based on genetic conditions, despite OB-GYNs and attorneys warning it was "medically unsound" and unconstitutional. 

Medical providers who terminate pregnancies based solely on conditions like Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis could face prison time under Senate Bill 1457, unless the abortion involves a condition considered "lethal." The measure also confers civil rights on fetuses at any stage of development, with an exception for embryos created via in vitro fertilization.

"There’s immeasurable value in every single life — regardless of genetic makeup," Ducey said in a statement. "We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our preborn children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives."

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In addition to imposing criminal sanctions, Senate Bill 1457 forbids the mailing or delivery of abortion-inducing drugs, which doctors sometimes use to manage miscarriages. It also requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated and imposes new reporting requirements on medical facilities. 

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It prohibits public educational institutions from performing abortions unless the mother's life is in jeopardy. And it prevents public money from supporting research involving abortions or embryo transfers. 

"With this legislation, Arizona remains among the top pro-life states in the nation," the Governor's Office said in a news release. 

Supporters, opponents lobby Ducey

Ducey's signature did not come as a surprise — he describes himself as "proudly pro-life" and has never vetoed an abortion measure. But competing advocacy groups still lobbied the Republican leader heavily in the days leading up to his decision. 

Those same groups, as well as religious and other community leaders, were quick to weigh in Tuesday afternoon. 

Cathi Herrod, director of the Center for Arizona Policy, thanked Ducey and bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, for "standing for preborn children and their mothers."

"An incredible day in Arizona," she wrote on Twitter. 

Bishops from the Arizona Catholic Conference said the measure "establishes that Arizona’s laws will be interpreted in the context of valuing all human life" and "looks forward to the day that Roe v. Wade is overturned."

"Arizona already has a statute on the books protecting human life from the moment of conception, and SB 1457 leaves this excellent statute in place while also not making the mother a criminal," they said in a statement. 

American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona policy director Darrell Hill, on the other hand, expressed disappointment "that Gov. Ducey went against the will of thousands of Arizonans who asked him to veto SB 1457," deeming it unconstitutional.  

"SB 1457 will undoubtedly have unintended consequences for people who experience pregnancy loss of any kind and will force people to carry pregnancies to term against their will," the attorney said in a statement. 

Progress Arizona said the law will put physicians "in an incredibly difficult position, as they could receive a felony for providing basic health care."

"We look forward to the litigation that will follow today's signature," the group said.

Fierce debate lasted months

Tuesday's signing followed months of intense committee hearings, rallies and floor debates — as well as a series of last-minute procedural maneuvers that the bill's sponsor used to revive the measure. 

Proponents of Senate Bill 1457 insisted the legislation would protect Arizona's most vulnerable, preventing "modern day eugenics" by ensuring equal treatment for babies with genetic conditions.

Barto also maintained that requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains would "give value to the unborn," and highlighted the provision banning delivery of abortion medication as an effort to ensure women were "not left on their own."

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, used a similar rationale in the House, citing the dangers of ectopic pregnancies, which involve fertilized eggs growing outside the uterus and can cause life-threatening bleeding.

Requiring an in-person appointment prior to receiving abortion medication would bolster the doctor-patient relationship, Cobb said, not diminish it.

OB-GYNs, meanwhile, came forward to testify that they would be afraid of providing pregnant patients comprehensive information about their choices.

Several faith leaders spoke out against the personhood provision as well, arguing that "one group's interpretation of scripture or personal beliefs, no matter how strongly held, should not be legislated over others."

Democratic lawmakers also accused the bill's supporters of using people with disabilities as pawns, contending the state essentially leaves families of children with genetic conditions to fend for themselves once those children are born. 

"Look at how we pay and train caregivers, how we treat people in long term care facilities and how we've been willing to put people with disabilities at the back of the line as we deal with COVID austerity," Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, said during a floor debate in the House. 

"The spina bifida bill I introduced this year went nowhere because of the price tag," the Phoenix Democrat said. "This is what a pregnant person sees as they face this decision, as they weigh the impact of this diagnosis, as they wonder: Who will protect this child after I am gone?"

Reach the reporter at maria.polletta@arizonarepublic.com. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signs sweeping anti-abortion bill into law

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