PHOENIX (CNS) — The executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops, said he was pleased the Arizona Legislature has passed a bill to outlaw abortions past 20 weeks gestation.
“It’s very exciting news,” Ron Johnson told The Catholic Sun, newspaper of the Phoenix Diocese. “It’s on its way to the governor’s office now and we’re very hopeful that she will sign this bill.”
In the past, Gov. Jan Brewer has consistently supported pro-life legislation. She had until April 16 to sign it into law or let it become law without her signature. Either way it is to go into effect this summer.
Johnson said the bill passed the House April 10 with 37 votes, although only 31 were needed for passage. He noted that one Democrat, Rep. Catherine Miranda, voted for it even though her party doesn’t usually support that type of legislation.
“We’re very appreciative that she made it a bipartisan bill, voting yes on this as a Democrat,” Johnson said. He also lauded the efforts of the Alliance Defense Fund and the Bioethics Defense Fund in helping craft the measure and working for its passage. The Senate approved the bill in March.
Some six other states already ban abortions after 20 weeks, largely based on the argument that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at that phase in their development.
Johnson said that supporters of the bill not only argued that fetuses suffer pain in abortion, but that mothers face a greater risk in late-term procedures. Opponents claimed medical evidence about fetal pain at that stage of pregnancy is not clear and said the measure took the decision-making out of the hands of a woman and her doctor if fetal deformities occur later in pregnancy.
Dr. Michael Czerkes an obstetrician and gynecologist, testified in support of the bill. The main risk with late-term abortions, he said, is increased maternal deaths.
“The numbers are still small, but a woman is 76 times more likely to die during an abortion after 20 weeks than one that is performed prior to eight weeks,” Czerkes said. “It’s very significant.”
Mike Phelan, director of the office of Marriage and Respect Life Issues for the Diocese of Phoenix, said the legislation might not prevent a large number of abortions — most take place prior to 20 weeks — but it would help educate people.
“(The bill) educates the public as to where the line of viability actually stands,” Phelan said. Viability refers to the ability of the child to survive outside the womb. “There’s been a remarkable development in what science can do in keeping a child alive.”
It makes it a misdemeanor to perform an abortion 20 weeks except in a medical emergency. The penalty for a doctor could include a six-month jail sentence and suspension or revocation of his or medical license.
Along with the educational aspect of the bill, Phelan lauded it for preventing the killing of the unborn after 20 weeks.
“Any time we can limit it, we’re in favor of it,” Phelan said.
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