PHOENIX — A proposal to boost abortion reporting by doctors, hospitals and the state’s Medicaid plan is so far the only piece of legislation targeting the contentious issue before the Arizona Legislature this year.
The proposal from Republican Sen. Nancy Barto is tame in comparison to other laws passed by the GOP-led Legislature during each session in the past decade. It faces its first hearing Wednesday.
Even though a bill filing deadline has passed, supporters of abortion rights are braced for more because abortion opponents often seek amendments or other last-minute changes later in the session.
The abortion reporting legislation was up for a committee hearing Wednesday, but the hearing was delayed late in the evening after hours of testimony on other bills. It would add to robust reporting requirements already placed on providers by mandating doctors ask a why a woman she was seeking an abortion, specifics of any complications and tougher “informed consent” reporting requirements.
The Legislature and current and former Republican governors have consistently signed off on abortion restrictions over the past decade. Some have been blocked by the courts or repealed after legal action by abortion-rights groups, but most are in force. They include parental consent laws, grounds for excluding abortion providers from providing non-abortion Medicaid services and bans on optional abortion coverage plans in Affordable Care Act health insurance policies.
This year, Planned Parenthood was steeling for an effort to put in place a ban on abortions at 20 weeks’ gestation, but that now appears unlikely. Cathi Herrod, the president of a powerful anti-abortion group, and Barto said abortion opponents are waiting instead for further direction from the courts. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down sweeping abortion clinic restrictions in Texas may have placed some limits on what new laws abortion opponents can push to enact.
Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said the abortion reporting legislation is the only measure on their agenda.
“We have no plans to do anything further this session,” Herrod said Tuesday. “You never know when something might arise, but this is what we’re working on for now.”
Barto caller proposals “pretty straightforward.
“It strengthens our abortion reporting,” Barto said. “For a lot of reasons it’s important to have information and so we’re looking at how other states are gathering information and basing most of our bill on how other states have expanded the information that they get so their policy making is based on facts.”
Opponents say the new proposal isn’t necessary.
“This is a legal medical procedure that should be between a woman and her doctor,” said Democratic Sen. Katie Hobbs, the minority leader. “There’s no need to increase reporting requirements.”
It also would require the state’s Medicaid agency to report how much it spends on abortions each year. Medicaid funds can only be used for abortions when the mother’s life or health is at risk or in case of rape and incest.
That requirement is likely to gather little actual information. According to the state’s Medicaid agency, it paid for just 31 abortions between Jan. 1, 2010 and April 9, 2015 at a cost of about $15,000. All but four were for maternal health reasons, while two each were to terminate pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest.
“They’ve already put all these restrictions in place that make it harder for women to access reproductive health care,” Hobbs said. “What else can they do? Maybe it’s all that’s left, I don’t know.”
Just last year, a provision inserted into state budget required the state health department to apply for federal family planning money that now is used by Planned Parenthood of Arizona and other groups to provide family planning services like contraception. None of the approximately $2 million in federal money Planned Parenthood gets is used for abortion. The Legislature also passed a law last year requiring doctors to try to revive an aborted fetus if it shows any sign of life.
A 2015 law requiring doctors to tell patients getting medication-induced abortions that they could be reversed was repealed in 2016 after a judge blocked it. The state had to pay Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers more than $600,000 in attorney fees and other costs they spent fighting the law.
Abortion providers said the law was unconstitutional because it wasn’t backed by science and made doctors give patients a state-mandated message they believed is medically wrong. Abortion opponents said women ought to be informed about a new method.
Barto is also sponsoring legislation designed to allow a parent to use embryos fertilized during a marriage even if they have since divorced, which passed on a 5-2 committee vote Wednesday. The proposal was prompted by a court ruling that denied a woman’s ability to use embryos she and her then-husband had frozen before she underwent chemotherapy that rendered her infertile.