Arizona Democrats and Doctors Raise Concerns Over Complexity of 15-Week Abortion Ban

Arizona Democrats and Doctors Raise Concerns Over Complexity of 15-Week Abortion Ban

Kris Mayes at a Joe Biden presidential campaign event on April 3, 2024. Gloria Rebecca Gomez’s photo from Arizona Mirror

In order to provide women and doctors with better instructions when faced with life-threatening situations, a coalition of Democratic senators is requesting that the state’s attorney general clarify the exception in Arizona’s 15-week abortion prohibition.

“We have received concerns from worried citizens that expectant mothers in the state could be refused medical care and prevented from getting an abortion once Arizona law establishes a 15-week gestational age limit,” the June 11 email request said.

Currently, doctors in the state are not allowed to conduct abortions after the 15-week mark unless there is a serious enough medical emergency for them to do so.

According to state legislation, a medical emergency is any situation that a doctor believes, in good faith, could lead to death or a “substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.”

Arizona Democrats and Doctors Raise Concerns Over Complexity of 15-Week Abortion Ban

Image: ABC News

Cell growth and the regular operation of the digestive, intestine, bladder, endocrine, reproductive, neurological, respiratory, and circulatory systems are all considered bodily functions.

Sens. Eva Burch and Christine Marsh, Representatives Judy Schwiebert and Stephanie Stahl Hamilton, and Attorney General Kris Mayes of Arizona were encouraged to submit an opinion that could better explain the situation to physicians throughout the state.


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The senators, who are all outspoken supporters of women’s rights, made it clear in their request that they are not in favor of a 15-week ban and are only looking for legal clarification.

Burch gained notoriety earlier this year when she announced her intention to undergo an abortion on the state Senate floor to draw attention to the harsh and intrusive procedures that Republican lawmakers had imposed on the state’s female population.

The legislators contend that the legislation’s provisions are overly ambiguous and run the risk of creating delays that can endanger a woman’s health. Doctors who perform illegal abortions are subject to a class 6 felony and a maximum term of two years in jail under the gestational prohibition.

Studies have shown that places with abortion prohibitions had much higher rates of maternal mortality than states where the procedure is more easily accessible. Additionally, doctors in other areas with restrictive legislation have reported being reluctant to offer care for fear of being criminalized.

One woman’s doctor refused to perform an emergency abortion; instead, she was taken by ambulance six hours away to North Carolina for treatment. In Tennessee, it is illegal for doctors to perform any abortions unless their patient faces death or irreversible impairment to a bodily function. She had symptoms of kidney failure and significantly elevated blood pressure when she arrived.

Lawmakers noted that health care practitioners need to be made aware of the situation in order to minimize the impact on women in Arizona. According to them, doctors have no case law to support their decisions.

In addition to facing a situation where their future reproductive health is at risk, the letter states that “these pregnant people face, while in the midst of a medical emergency, a potentially life-threatening situation wherein the life of a pregnant person would be endangered or even lost due to confusion by doctors as to what constitutes a medical emergency under state law.”

By July 11th, the Democratic lawmakers wanted a response. Though only advisory in nature, the state attorney general’s office’s opinions are respected as legal advice from Arizona’s highest ranking official.

Although a legal opinion can help physicians in Arizona find answers to urgent concerns, it is doubtful that any medical professional in the state will face legal action due to the gestational ban.

Mayes has sworn never to prosecute doctors in court, and last year, Governor Katie Hobbs issued an executive order centralizing all prosecuting authority for violators of the abortion legislation in the state attorney general’s office. Although a number of county attorneys vowed to file a lawsuit against the executive order on the grounds that it violated their authority as public servants, the challenge has not yet been realized.

In an interview with 12News reporter Brahm Resnik, Mayes stated that she agrees with the group of Democratic lawmakers that the law is unclear and that she intends to reply to their request.

“Kris, how close to death do I have to allow a woman who is in a crisis, (an) emergency pregnancy situation — ectopic pregnancy, for instance — before I can avoid being prosecuted under the 15-week abortion ban?” said one emergency room doctor at Banner to me. That’s an absurd thing for him to have to ask me, and it’s strange that physicians these days have to spend every evening discussing the level of care they can give women with their lawyers,” the woman remarked.

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