Controversial abortion bill revived in Arizona Senate

Using a strategic legislative maneuver, Arizona Sen. Nancy Barto has revived her contested bill prohibiting abortions performed on the basis of a fetus’s genetic abnormality. Following an amended version of the bill’s one-vote failure in the Senate, Barto also switched her vote to “no,” allowing her to bring SB 1457 up for reconsideration.

Following an impromptu conference committee hearing on the bill on Monday, Sen. Tyler Pace said his concerns about a jury overriding a medical professional’s decision were addressed. With the lone opposed Republican on board, the bill is back on track to pass its second chamber.


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Pace originally voted against the bill when the Senate voted on it for a second time to approve of Rep. Regina Cobb’s substitute amendment, which exempted fetuses with “severe fetal abnormalities” from the abortion restriction. The amendment defines a severe fetal abnormality as “a life-threatening physical condition that, in reasonable medical judgement, regardless of the provision of life-saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life.”

In explaining his vote, Pace voiced his concerns about criminalizing any physician who conducts an abortion in which the fetus may have a genetic abnormality. Even when exempting abortions in cases of severe fetal abnormalities, the “reasonable medical judgement” required by a physician when determining whether or not to abort was too ambiguous, according to Pace.

Although he is a self-proclaimed pro-life legislator, he believed the bill was too broad in its criminalization of physicians and gave non-medical professionals too much say:

“If a physician was to perform an abortion outside of the legal realm, within this bill, and to perform an abortion for a severe fetal abnormality, they would have to use ‘reasonable medical judgement,’ and that sounds reasonable. However, a jury would have to determine what medical judgement was reasonable. We are asking a panel of lay individuals to determine medical judgment — to play the board of medicine. That’s a large reach.”

He introduced an amendment in Monday’s conference committee stating only physicians who knowingly perform abortions that are sought solely based on a fetus having a genetic abnormality can be criminally charged. It also replaces the term “severe fetal abnormality” with “lethal fetal condition,” a previously defined statutory term. 

While these clarifications satisfied Pace, Democratic Sen. Kirsten Engel — also present at the conference committee — argued the amendment still doesn’t address his initial concern, saying the determination of a physician’s intent in performing an abortion is still subjective and shouldn’t be judged by a jury.

Pace acknowledged there is still some subjectivity in the provision, but noted that his amendment removes the “reasonable medical judgement” guideline and only includes “good faith clinical judgement.” According to him, the latter requirement is clearer and much less subjective.

In the last week of the legislative session, Barto’s revived bill has yet to return to the Senate for a final vote. When State of Reform reached out to Pace’s office regarding the status of the bill, they affirmed that SB 1457 is back on track to be heard.