Abortion bill would alter Arizona law to define life as beginning at conception - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Abortion bill would alter Arizona law to define life as beginning at conception

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Posted: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 5:15 pm | Updated: 5:28 pm, Tue Jan 31, 2012.

A state senator wants to erect even more hurdles in the path of women who want an abortion.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said Tuesday that 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.

Smith acknowledged his goal in imposing new requirements is to convince women to decide against an abortion.

But the most significant part of SB 1494 is that it would alter Arizona law to define human life as beginning at conception. And that could pave the way for abortion foes to use the Arizona statute to mount a head-on challenge to the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, which traditionally opposes such restrictions, said her organization was still studying the measure and had no comment.

Smith said there's a legitimate purpose behind the definition of human life.

"It clearly tells the woman that what they're aborting is a human being," he said.

His legislation hammers that point home with a requirement that a woman be told, at least 24 hours in advance, that the abortion "will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." And a pregnant woman also would have to be informed she "has an existing relationship with that unborn human being" which is protected by the U.S. Constitution and state laws.

And then there's the legal challenge.

Smith said the legality of a similar law is being considered by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If that is upheld and his measure becomes law, he expects a challenge to the 9th Circuit which has purview over Arizona statutes.

Ultimately, he expects the question to go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"If the Supreme Court now decides that language is correct and what you're killing is a human being, well, we have a little law that you can't kill human beings," Smith said. At that point, he said it forces the high court to reexamine the rationale behind Roe v. Wade.

But Smith said he sees a benefit in the legislation regardless of whether it ultimately leads to abortions once again being illegal in Arizona. He said the current informed consent requirements go only so far.

"But when they see what you're killing is a human being in front of them, I think that's hopefully just one more stopgate in their mental processing to say, ‘Oh, it's not just an amalgamation of cells and globs of this and plasma this and blood this,'" he said.

Smith's legislation would apply in both cases of surgical and medical abortions, the latter involving the use of RU-486 which induces a woman to miscarry.

Less clear is how a law defining life as beginning at conception might affect the legal use of the "morning-after pill."

One theory is that the pill, essentially a large dose of hormones, prevents a woman from ovulating. Smith said he subscribes to an alternate theory that the hormones prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.

"This bill was not written for that," he said. "It's written for your typical walking-into-an-abortion-clinic case."

Smith said it will be up to courts to determine if the law - assuming it is approved and upheld - affects that particular practice.

The first-term lawmaker said if it were up to him, all abortions would be illegal. That separates him from several "pro-life" politicians, including Gov. Jan Brewer who said she would allow exceptions, including in cases of rape or incest.

"I guess I'm a purist," he said. "It's easy for me as a man to say that because I'll never be in that situation."

Smith said his reasons go back more to his religious beliefs.

"God doesn't make mistakes," he said. "I believe that God is still on the throne and that's happening for a reason, whether we get it or not."

The definition of life aside, Smith's measure would add to the list of what a prospective abortion patient would have to be told ahead of time.

Right now that list includes "immediate and long-term medical risks" a patient would want to know about, the probable gestational age of the unborn child as well as its "probable anatomical and physiological characteristics."

SB 1494 would require a specific mention of depression and related psychological distress as well as the risk of infection, hemorrhage, danger to subsequent pregnancies and infertility.

Smith acknowledged nothing in the law requires a woman to be told about the impacts of carrying a child to term, including how that will affect her life or finances. He said that is justified.

"They're not going to a childbirth clinic, they're going to an abortion clinic," he said. "At an abortion clinic, they should be told the risks of having an abortion, not having the risk of having a child."

He said any woman interested in the latter information should see a family doctor.

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