A House panel approved a measure Wednesday that could make it impossible for women to get abortions in rural areas.
The legislation adds some new requirements of what a clinic or hospital would have to do before terminating a pregnancy. That includes performing an ultrasound which would have to be available to the woman at least an hour before the procedure.
A patient also would have to get the chance to hear the fetal heartbeat if one were available.
But Bryan Howard, president of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, told members of the House Committee on Health and Human Services said the most far-reaching provision on HB 2416 could be a small change that expands the definition of constitutes a surgical abortion to also include pregnancies terminated by drugs. He said that makes no sense.
"That entire regulatory framework is built around surgery: what prep you have to do before the surgery, what facilities and instruments and medicines you need to have on site during the surgery and what preparations you have to safeguard the woman post surgery,'' Howard said. "Abortion by pill involves exactly zero of any of that.''
Howard said, though, the real effect would be to end the practice of Planned Parenthood to offer non-surgical abortions at its clinics in rural areas.
Right now, he said, state law allows nurse-practitioners with certain training to administer RU-486. That double dose of drugs is designed to cause a woman to abort, though the process takes several days.
DeShawn Taylor, medical director of Planned Parenthood, said it is an option only during the first nine weeks of pregnancy.
Howard said the proposal will mean that women who now are candidates for non-surgical abortions will have to travel to Phoenix -- and presumably remain there for the multi-day procedure.
Deborah Sheasby, legal counsel for the Center for Arizona Policy, said her organization, which opposes abortion, believes the change is appropriate.
At the very least, she said those requirements that now exist for surgical abortions should extend to all instances where a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy. For example, Sheasby said these include having a private space to conduct an interview, appropriate laboratory area and even pre-procedure hand-washing, "typical things you would expect in a doctor's office that's not only related to surgery.''
She also said state health officials, who are responsible for administering the law, will be able to craft rules to account for the differences with non-surgical procedures.
As to the issue of access to abortion, Sheasby said Planned Parenthood would remain free to offer those services anywhere in Arizona it wants. But she said they would have to have "appropriate staff and appropriate equipment to handle any complications.''
Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of the legislation, said her interest is protecting the health of women. But Yee said she's perfectly fine if the measure results in fewer abortions.
"All of us ran on various issues near and dear to our heart,'' she said.
"And I vowed to stand up for populations that can not otherwise speak for themselves,'' Yee continued. "So this bill speaks up for the rights of the unborn, our most precious population, and for women, their health and their safety.''
Wednesday's 6-3 committee vote sends the measure to the Rules Committee which is supposed to check it solely for legality and constitutionality, and then to the full House.