On a 20-10 margin, the state Senate voted Tuesday to ban virtually all abortions at 20 weeks of gestation, a measure that Planned Parenthood Arizona says makes it the most restrictive in the nation.
The vote came over objections of foes to HB 2036 who have argued that the question of terminating a pregnancy should be left to a woman and her doctor, without legislative intervention. But Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said it's not that simple.
"There's a third person in that room,'' he said. "There's the baby. Who speaks for her, the totally innocent one with no voice? Who has the duty and the right to speak for her? We do.''
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira said he understands that, in a representative democracy, legislators are legally empowered to make such decisions.
But the Tempe Democrat said the problem with such hard and fast rules is that lawmakers cannot possibly understand each person's situation. He claimed a majority of doctors oppose this bill for that reason.
"I think we should weigh that and we should consider that when we cast our votes,'' he said. "Just like if a vast majority of educators say something in education is a bad idea or recommend that we do something in education, I think we should hear them out.''
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, however, put the issue on a larger scale.
"I would like to listen to the 50 million-plus children that have been aborted and killed since Roe v. Wade,'' he said, referring to the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which concluded that women have a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. "I would like to listen to what they think of this bill.''
Tuesday's vote sends the measure to the House which has not considered the issue.
Current law makes abortion legal until a fetus is "viable.''
The statutes do not spell out how far that is into a pregnancy. Instead, it leaves the decision to the attending physician who gets to decide that, in any given case there is a "reasonable probability'' that the fetus could survive outside the uterus, with or without artificial support.
Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said that is generally considered between 22 and 24 weeks.
This legislation is based on the argument that a fetus is sufficiently developed at 20 weeks to be able to feel pain, regardless of its viability. That contention drew extensive debate during hearings, with medical professionals on both sides of the issue.
This new 20-week limit puts Arizona in line with at least six other states which have implemented similar restrictions.
But Michelle Steinberg, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said she believes this legislation is even more restrictive.
"The way you determine gestation is based on the last actual period,'' she said, which is a simple matter of consulting with the patient.
Steinberg said this measure, however, specifically requires a doctor to perform "all medical examinations, imaging studies and tests'' of the woman and the fetus that a reasonable physician would consider necessary "in making an accurate diagnosis with respect to the gestational age.'' She said that difference between the last menstrual cycle and the actual time of conception might cut another week or more off the 20-week permitted time for an abortion.
But Barto said those concerns are misplaced. She said doctors will not have to do anything different under this measure to determine how far along a fetus is developed.
Barto also said the law recognizes that ascertaining gestational age is not a precise science. She said no doctor who makes a good faith effort to determine the age before performing an abortion would face the risk of prosecution.
The legislation makes performing an abortion at 20 weeks or beyond a Class 1 misdemeanor which can result in six months in jail. The only exception would be for a medical emergency.
Some opponents of the law said there also should be exceptions in cases of rape and incest.