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GOP pushes 'born alive' bill to require care in rare abortion cases

GOP pushes 'born alive' bill to require care in rare abortion cases

  • Reproductive rights protesters in Tucson in June 2022.
    Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.comReproductive rights protesters in Tucson in June 2022.

Republicans in the Arizona Senate want to mandate care for children delivered alive during abortions, even though there’s already a law on the books that does just that. 

Existing law already requires that abortion providers give medical care and contact emergency services if a fetus developed to 20 weeks is delivered alive. 

But Senate Bill 1600 would amend the existing law to view a fetus that is delivered alive through an abortion as a legal person with the same rights to medically appropriate and reasonable care as anyone else. It also amends the language in the current law to change the word “fetus” to “infant” and “delivered” to “born alive.”

Abortion in Arizona is currently legal only up until 15 weeks, due to a law passed by the legislature last year that went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court shot down Roe v. Wade in June. 

The new proposal goes further than existing law, requiring that any medical professional present for the delivery provide care, and mandating that anyone who sees a violation report it to law enforcement. The bill stipulates that parents can refuse treatment for the infant if it will only prolong life when death is imminent. 

Those who violate the law could face a felony charge as well as a civil lawsuit. 

The bill elicited impassioned testimony from lawmakers who supported it and members of the public who attended a Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing Tuesday, but experts say that children are very rarely delivered alive through abortions. 

A fetus is potentially viable after 24 weeks of development, and less than 1% of abortions in the United States are performed after that. According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, only 1.6% abortions in 2021 were performed on pregnancies at least 21 weeks of gestation.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Janae Shamp of Surprise, told the committee that the proposal was about “protecting life.” 

Nicole Cestaro told the committee that she was pressured to abort her child, who was born last May, because her daughter had trisomy 18, a chromosomal condition that causes slow growth and organ abnormalities. 

Her daughter was born without complications but only lived about a week, and doctors did nothing to try to save her, Cestaro said. 

“She died in our arms,” Cestaro told the committee. “It was a moment no parent should have to experience.” 

She added that her daughter deserved to continue fighting for life with the help of her doctors. 

“She was loved, she was wanted, her life held immeasurable value,” Cestaro said. 

Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, also put his organization’s backing behind the bill. 

“We believe in the dignity of human life from conception to natural death,” Johnson told the committee. 

Sen. Eva Burch, D-Mesa, pointed out that Arizona already had laws in place to address this. She added that, while the stories she heard during the meeting were compelling, there are also circumstances where a woman in distress delivers a fetus that has no chance of survival and a mandate to provide care anyway might cause even more emotional distress. 

The bill passed the committee 4-3, along party lines. 

Senate Bill 1366, another bill passed by the committee along party lines on Tuesday, would require doctors and nurses to inform all pregnant patients that they might qualify for assistance to help with the costs of pregnancy and delivery, that the child’s father is liable for child support and that it’s illegal for anyone to coerce a patient into having an abortion. 

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff, said it was all about making sure pregnant mothers have “as much information as possible.” 

While these bills are almost certain to be vetoed by pro-choice Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs should they be sent to her, some say that bills proposed in the House are more subtle attempts at establishing fetal personhood. 

While Rep. Matt Gress, R-Phoenix, insists that the bills he sponsored are only about helping women and children and nothing else, Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, which approved the bills, suspect that he has ulterior motives

His proposals would allow women to collect child support back to the date of a positive pregnancy test; allow pregnant women to drive in the carpool lane; supply compensation to women who are raped and carry the baby to term; increase penalties for perpetrators of domestic violence against pregnant victims; and allow families that include a pregnant person to collect child tax credits.

This report was first published by the Arizona Mirror.

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