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Sen. Eva Burch hopes her personal story will boost abortion rights campaign in Arizona

Last week, a Democratic state lawmaker told her colleagues on the Senate floor that she planned to get an abortion in the coming days and she hopes her story will aid efforts to put abortion access on the ballot in November.

Sen. Eva Burch (D-Mesa) took the microphone near the end of the Arizona Senate’s floor session on March 18 and told lawmakers that she was pregnant, the fetus was not viable and she planned to get an abortion.

“I don’t think people should have to justify their abortions, but I’m choosing to talk about why I made this decision, because I want us to be able to have meaningful conversations about the reality of how the work that we do in this body impacts people in the real world,” Burch told her colleagues.

To be clear, there is no abortion legislation currently in front of the Legislature, but the Arizona Supreme Court is considering a case that could reinstate a Civil War-era total ban. Right now, a 15-week abortion ban passed in 2022 is the law. 

Speaking after she underwent the procedure, Burch said the state’s laws subjected her to an unnecessary ultrasound and forced her sit through counsel designed to change the minds of patients with viable pregnancies.

“I was told that I could choose adoption; I was told that I could choose parenting, which were two things that I couldn't choose,” Burch said. “And it was cruel to suggest that that was an option for me when it's not.”

Dr. Jill Gibson, the chief medical officer with Planned Parenthood Arizona, said those talking points are part of a script providers are required to recite under Arizona law, and she hopes Burch’s openness will dispel misconceptions about who is seeking abortion care.

“I do absolutely agree that people have a misconception and judgments about people who have abortions but the reality is, is that one in four people with reproductive potential will have an abortion during their lifetime,” Gibson said. 

Burch, a nurse practitioner, directed her comments to Republican lawmakers, some of whom passed the 15-week ban in 2022.

“And do I have high expectations to change people's minds who are very passionately against abortion? No, but I think a lot of people are interested in having a larger conversation,” Burch said.

But Burch’s testimony had an effect on at least one Republican lawmaker. 

“Her story points out that there are aspects of those statutes that get in the way of reasonable care for some people,” said Sen. Ken Bennett (R-Prescott), who lists “protect unborn life” on his campaign website as a priority.

Bennett was quick to say Burch didn’t convince him that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, but he said there is a conversation to be had about where lawmakers should draw the line.

“Somewhere between heartbeat and viability, there needs to be some flexibility for people to make decisions on their care,” Bennett said, but added he did not think abortion should be used as “birth control.”

Burch said lawmakers shouldn’t be involved in that decision at all and that voters should be the one to decide the issue.

She voiced support for an ongoing effort to collect signatures to put the right to abortion before Arizona voters. 

Outside a bookstore in Tempe, Paul Weich and Susan Ashley spent an afternoon collecting signatures.

“My philosophy here is I don’t care why you have to do this,” Ashley said. “Nobody wants to do it; everybody should have the right if something happens in their life that dictates they’re going down this path, make it as easy on them as possible.” 

They spoke with Norma Millan, who called Burch “courageous” for sharing her story, though she said she would have signed the petition even if Burch did not speak out.

“I would’ve signed it anyway. We shouldn’t go backwards. We should go forward,” Millan said.

Abortion advocates have about three more months to collect the nearly 400,000 signatures they need to give supporters the chance to voice that opinion at the polls in November. 

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.