Experts: Arizona is leader in anti-abortion legislation

April 18, 2012

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last week signed a bill into law that will generally ban abortions after 20 weeks. Her move came over objections that the bill amounts to the state practicing medicine. And, some experts say the bill shows that Arizona has become a national leader in the anti-abortion movement. From Phoenix, KJZZ’s Mark Brodie reports.

MARK BRODIE: In addition to the 20 week abortion ban, the bill also requires women to have an ultrasound at least 24 hours before an abortion, and requires the state to set up a website with information about available services, and pictures of a fetus at two-week increments from fertilization to full-term. Cathi Herrod is the President of the Center for Arizona Policy, which was a main force behind the bill. She says its goal is to provide for mothers’ health and safety.

CATHI HERROD:The foundation for most of these laws is related to what information a woman needs so she can make, if you want to use the other side’s terminology, an “informed choice,” about whether or not to have an abortion.

BRODIE: Herrod says the bill balances the needs of women considering an abortion, and their unborn children. But, critics say the real point is to restrict access to abortion. Jodi Liggett, CEO of the Arizona Foundation for Women says lawmakers are catering to the loudest voices in an election year.

JODI LIGGETT: I don’t know that there’s necessarily a war on women at our legislature, but we certainly think that they’re not addressing the most compelling of women’s needs.

BRODIE: Like, Liggett says, education and job creation. Both critics and supporters say Arizona is one of the states leading the way nationally in advocating this kind of legislation. Elizabeth Nash is the State Issues Manager for the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks legislation, and aims to advance reproductive health.

ELIZABETH NASH: The number of abortion restrictions that have been adopted in Arizona really means that the state has nearly every abortion restriction that is possible.

BRODIE: And, bill proponent Cathi Herrod says Arizona is setting the bar on anti-abortion legislation.

HERROD: There’s no question that Arizona is leading in many ways as far as to set forth sound public policy protecting life.

BRODIE: But it’s not just Arizona that’s enacting new laws on abortion. Last year, Texas decided to require women to have an ultrasound before they could have an abortion. And, Texas and Utah are among many states with 24 hour waiting periods before a woman can have an abortion. Caroline Heldman is an Associate Professor of Politics at Occidental College. She says anti-abortion advocates all over the country have been working behind the scenes for decades.

CAROLINE HELDMAN: It’s a misguided notion to think that it’s simply an increase in activism now. It’s simply an electoral opportunity now, to put pressure in ways that groups have been putting pressure of really for decades.

BRODIE: Heldman thinks the current discussion about abortion could awake what she calls a “sleeping giant.” Chapman University Political Science Professor Lori Cox Han agrees. She says in politics, like physics, for every action, there’s a reaction.

LORI COX HAN: Certainly, when these kinds of issues are put into place at the state level, it’s no longer just a state issue, it becomes a national issue. So, what you will see is a lot of energy and movement on the pro-choice, reproductive rights side, in terms of those interest groups, I think in a way we haven’t really seen in a while.

BRODIE: Han expects debate on these issues to continue through November’s elections. But, the final word on Arizona’s abortion law will likely come after that: Observers on both sides of the issue expect it to be the subject of a lawsuit.

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