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GOP-controlled Arizona Senate passes 15-week abortion ban

Republicans who control the Arizona Senate voted Tuesday to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, moving to put a new ban in place ahead of a highly anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision that could bring seismic changes to abortion availability in the United States.

The vote came over objections from minority Democrats who said the measure was unconstitutional under the landmark Roe v Wade and other Supreme Court decisions the high court could overturn. They also said any ban would disproportionally impact poor and minority women who won't be able to travel to Democratic states without strict abortion laws.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said she hopes the high court upholds a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks it is now weighing.

“The state has an obligation to protect life, and that is what this bill is about,” Barto said during debate. “A 15-week-old baby in the womb has a fully formed nose, lips, eyelids, they suck their thumbs. They feel pain. That's what this bill is about.”

Arizona already has some of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, including one that would automatically outlaw it if the high court fully overturns Roe, the nearly five-decade-old ruling that enshrined a nationwide right to abortion.

Republicans hope to put the 15-week ban in place so it takes effect quickly if the Supreme Court further limits abortion rights but stops short of fully overturning Roe. The measure closely mirrors the Mississippi law.

Under current abortion rulings, abortion is legal until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb, which is usually around 24 weeks.

Democratic Sen. Martin Quezada pushed Barto on the state of the law today, with Roe and a series of follow-up decisions enshrining a woman's right to abortion.

“I understand the hopes of what the Supreme Court will do from from your side of the aisle,” Quezada said. “But as it stands today, right now, is this law constitutional or not?”

“I believe it is. I believe it is,” Barto said. “I believe our constitution stands clearly for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and the first part of that is life.”

Quezada, who represents parts of Glendale, said that's just wrong.

“If we are waiting to see what the Supreme Court does, let’s wait to see what the Supreme Court actually does before we start trying to change these laws,” he said. “Otherwise, you’re spinning our wheels right now.”

He also noted that low-income Arizonans who already struggle to access healthcare will be impacted by a 15-week ban.

“Instead of making this type of health care more accessible to these people, we’re making it more difficult for them to get access to,” he said. “So the reality is that that we’re making life harder for the people that need the most help in our society.”

The bill now moves to the state House, where majority Republicans also routinely back restrictions on abortion. If passed there, it goes to Gov, Doug Ducey’s desk. The Republican opposes abortion and has signed every related bill that has reached his desk in the past seven sessions.

Barto's bill would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion after 15 weeks but would prohibit the prosecution of women for receiving one. Doctors could face felony charges and lose their license to practice medicine. There is an exception for cases when the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury, but not for instances of rape or incest.

Of the 13,186 abortions performed in Arizona in 2020, 636 were after 15 weeks of pregnancy, according to the latest data from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

A proposal to mirror a Texas law that effectively bans abortions after six weeks has also been introduced in Arizona but has not advanced in the Legislature. The measure is unique in that it allows private citizens to file civil lawsuits against anyone who helps someone else get an abortion after six weeks. It has made legal challenges difficult because the government is not involved in enforcement.

Greg Hahne started as a news intern at KJZZ in 2020 and returned as a field correspondent in 2021. He learned his love for radio by joining Arizona State University's Blaze Radio, where he worked on the production team.