Published on January 21, 2022 at 2:56 p.m.
Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick has been a source of comfort for women facing unwanted pregnancies in the Phoenix area for over 25 years. But an attempt to replicate Texas’ sweeping new abortion law that allows citizens to control abortion restrictions could tie his hands.
Arizona is one of several states where Republican lawmakers are seeking to enshrine anti-abortion laws identical to the one Texas passed in 2021 and the U.S. Supreme Court allowed to go into effect. House Bill 2483 would require all abortions to include a test of the fetal heartbeat — which is not actually a heartbeat — and would ban abortions in which one was detected. The only exceptions are medical emergencies that threaten the woman’s life.
Doctors who perform abortions and anyone who helps a woman to have an abortion incur civil liability. Doctors would be fined $10,000 for each abortion. Anyone who knowingly helps a woman get a procedure when she fails to respond to a medical emergency or fails to follow heartbeat detection rules could be subject to a lawsuit and $10,000 in damages. $ or more.
But the state wouldn’t enforce those rules: instead, any Arizona citizen could file a lawsuit alleging a violation of the law.
Republicans control both houses of the state legislature by a single vote. HB2483 has yet to be assigned to a committee, but abortion advocates fear it will cross party lines.
The problem with using heartbeat detection as a barrier to abortion access, Goodrick said, is that it can get tricky. The heart is not fully developed until 10 weeks, but activity can be detected by ultrasound as early as 6 weeks. These beats are not necessarily heartbeats either, but rather electrical impulses where the heart begins to form.
Part of the bill says women should be told about the presence of fetal heartbeats to make an “informed choice” about whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Currently, abortion providers are required to perform an ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure and offer patients photos and explanations of the ultrasound as well as the ability to hear the heartbeat. The majority of women, Goodrick said, don’t change their minds based on this information and, in fact, most refuse it. The reality is that women who choose abortion have already made up their minds. A 2014 study in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that 98.4% of women who viewed ultrasound images still had an abortion.
“It’s insulting to their intelligence and decision-making ability,” Goodrick said of the idea that women can be so easily swayed.
Arizona law requires women to sign a consent form at least 24 hours before an abortion. The paucity of clinics means some patients can wait weeks for even the initial consultation and still prevail, Goodrick said.
There are only nine licensed abortions in Arizona that serve the state’s roughly 4 million women, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios said. A 2017 Guttmacher Institute analysis found that 1 in 4 women will have an abortion. The same organization discovered that more than 800,000 abortions took place that year in Arizona.
Rios spoke on a Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee media call to discuss threats to reproductive rights ahead of the January 22 anniversary Roe vs. Wade.
“The women’s body control program will just continue,” said DLCC President Jessica Post, “We have this extreme case in Texas (with SB-8) that’s a model for what can happen at the national scale.”
HB2438, officially titled “Arizona Heartbeat Act” is a close copy of SB-8.
The new bill is not the only piece of Arizona legislation limiting women’s access to abortion. Rios, a Democrat from Phoenix, noted that a number of pre-deer
laws already in effect in Arizona are currently blocked by the Supreme Court’s decision. The oldest, dating from 1901, carries a mandatory prison sentence of 2 to 5 years for abortion providers. More recently, a federal court last year blocked a new anti-abortion law that assigned personality to fetuses and made abortions based on gender, race or genetic abnormality a Class 3 felony.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns this year deer when he speaks Dobbs vs. Jacksonas many predict, these laws will come into effect.
NARAL Pro-Choice America, a nonprofit abortion advocacy organization, noted that HB2438 is at odds with most Arizona views. Republican lawmakers, they said, are out of touch with their constituents.
“8 out of 10 Arizonans (support) legal abortion rights. It’s clear that Republicans in Arizona, who only hold a one-vote majority in the legislature, aren’t listening to the majority of Arizonans who support reproductive freedom,” said Caroline Mello Roberson, regional director of the southwest, in a written statement.
In the end, anti-abortion legislation affects disadvantaged women the most. The fetal heart rate warning means women need to catch their pregnancies early: A review of national survey data found that the average time to pregnancy awareness was 5.5 weeks and awareness of advanced stage was more prevalent in black and Hispanic women. A 2016 CDC report concluded that 65.5% of all abortions were performed at or after eight weeks – two weeks after a “fetal heartbeat” was detected. Black women accounted for the largest share of abortions at 38% that same year.
If this bill passes, Goodrick said, it will push women who can afford to travel out of state for medical care — something poor, rural and minority women often cannot. Forcing women to carry unwanted children to term can lead to more abandoned babies or child abuse, and will certainly put a strain on already struggling families, she said. A Brookings Institution analysis of National Family Growth Survey data from 2011 to 2013 found that low-income women were five times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than wealthy women, despite similar levels of sexual activity.
Goodrick worries that some women may resort to online searches for abortion drugs or other unsafe abortion methods. Abortion care will become “underground” – a dangerous prospect for women. Ultimately, legislation that makes it more difficult to access reproductive health care has harmful effects.
“Restrictions on abortion do nothing to improve women’s health,” Goodrick said.
Don Bolles Fellow, University of Arizona
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