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Transgender and abortion bills highlight growing division of Arizona lawmakers

Highlighting growing political divisions and controversy in Arizona — and around the nation — a Republican-controlled legislative committee voted Wednesday to approve two transgender-focused bills and one abortion bill.

Senate Bill 1165, "Save Women's Sports Act," looks at limiting the ability of transgender youths to play sports of their chosen gender.

Proponents of the act say transgender women would dominate women's sports based on several biological factors.

"I love competition; allowing males to compete against females takes away the fairness of competition in female athletes," said state Representative Quang Nguyen, R- Prescott, reading a statement from one of his constituents. "Why compete when you know you're already defeated before you even start? Allowing males to compete with female athletics is stealing wins, opportunities and dreams from female athletes."

Opponents of the act say it is offensive to classify transgender women as physically superior.

"The notion that all people born male are automatically great athletes above all other athletes is wildly offensive and laughable," said state Representative Jennifer Pawlik, D-Chandler, reading a statement from one of her constituents. "Muscle fiber typing genetics, nutrition, cross-training, understanding the rules, overall build and mental game are some of the multitudes of variables that go into making an athlete. These vary person to person regardless of their genitals."

Senate Bill 1138, "Arizona's Children Deserve Help Not Harm Act," addresses the legality of gender reassignment treatment by doctors.

The bill's detractors say it takes away from personal liberties and insults the practice doctors uphold.

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"I oppose this bill that essentially dictates medical care and inserts politics into the exam room and patient-family relationships," said Dr. Atsuko Koyama, a board-certified pediatric medicine specialist, during public comments. "In medicine, we believe in updating and improving our standards of care based on medical research, expert opinion and patient-centered care. We don't need other legislators to dictate medical management, and this is what SB 1138 does. It's unnecessary."

Proponents of the bill say children with gender dysphoria regret their decisions to transition later down the road.

"Studies have shown that the so-called gender reassignment surgery does not improve mental health or lower the suicide rates among those traveling with gender identity conflict," said Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy during public comments. "A major study in Sweden revealed that 10 to 15 years out the suicide rate of those who had undergone sex reassignment surgery was 20 times that of comparable female peers."

Both bills passed 6-4 along party lines despite Democratic objections. The bills will be read by the House as a whole one final time before being sent to the governor for his signature.

The committee also voted along party lines Wednesday to pass Senate Bill 1164, which would greenlight felony charges against doctors who perform an abortion after 15 weeks except in the case of an emergency.

The controversial bill will move to the entire House floor for its final read before sending it to the governor. If passed, it'll be one of many recent laws across the nation that has publicly challenged the precedent of the 1973 Supreme Court holding in Roe v. Wade.

The last time the Supreme Court took a challenge to Roe occurred in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. There, the justices ruled 5-4 to keep Roe largely intact.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, who has supported Republican-led abortion bills, is expected to sign the bill if passed.

Ducey leaves office Jan. 1, 2023. The leading gubernatorial candidates took to Twitter to discuss their stances on the controversial bill.

"As governor, I would not only veto this extremist bill, I would also trust Arizona women to make health care decisions alongside doctors, not politicians," said Democratic gubernatorial candidate and current Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.

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The leading GOP candidate, Kari Lake, took a hardline stance by replying to Hobbs directly. 

"Killing a baby in the mother's womb is not health care, Katie," Lake said.

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