Three doctors who perform abortions filed suit today in federal court to stop the state from enforcing a new law which bans terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks.
Current Arizona law bans abortions after viability -- generally considered in the neighborhood of 23 weeks -- except in emergencies. This law sets the cutoff at 20 weeks, a point at which some have argued a fetus can feel pain. But attorney Janet Crepps from the Center for Reproductive Rights said that violates prior rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state House voted this afternoon to make Arizona the seventh state in the nation to ban abortions at 20 weeks.
Current state law bans abortion of a viable fetus, a point generally thought to be in the 22 to 23 week range. But Rep. Kimberly Yee said that is not justified.
"The medical evidence is clear that the pre-born child has developed pain sensors on their face in the seventh week of life," said Yee. "By the 20th week of life, sensory receptors have developed all over the preborn baby's body."
The measure would make it a crime to terminate a pregnancy once a fetus reached 20 weeks. Foes have said such decisions are best left to a woman and her doctor. But Republican Senator Steve Yarbrough said it's not that simple.
"There's a third person in that room," he argued. "There is the baby. Who speaks for her, the totally innocent one with no voice? Who has the duty and the right to speak for her? We do."
The legislation is based on the premise that a fetus is able to experience pain at that point in development. Senator Nancy Barto of Phoenix cited testimony of a doctor who said that a 20-week fetus has sensory receptors all over its body. Barto also said there is evidence that, the later along a pregnancy, the greater the chance of complications for the mother. But Senator Linda Lopez of Tucson said proponents really want to interfere with a woman's legal right to an abortion.
Adena Lees had sent a note to Tuscon Republican Representative Terri Proud urging her to oppose a measure that would ban all abortions after 20 weeks. Lees said she was concerned there were no exceptions for things like fetal anomalies.
Proud wrote back saying she thinks the bill is too lax.
"Personally," Proud wrote, "I'd like to make a law that mandates a woman watch an abortion being performed prior to having a surgical procedure."
A state senator is proposing new procedural hurdles for women who want an abortion.
Senator Steve Smith said Arizona already has fairly substantial laws requiring that women give "informed consent'' before terminating a pregnancy. That includes everything from a discussion of the risks and a 24-hour waiting period, to offering to let the woman see an ultrasound of the fetus. But Smith wants to add several more things based on what would be a new provision in state law that would define life as beginning at conception.