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Arizona moves closer to limiting abortion access while increasing recognition for crisis pregnancy centers

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MahurinPointing_Thumb_407.jpg

Updated at 5:08 p.m.

In the tide of abortion-related legislation sweeping the nation, among the popular proposals is to mandate counseling services for women seeking an abortion. Many states already do require women do receive counseling before an abortion – 34, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and 24 of these states detail what information a woman must be given. But there are further efforts around the country to narrow what a woman must be told and, even, where she must be told it.

Last week, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed legislation requiring women who want an abortion to first visit a crisis pregnancy center (CPC), or a pregnancy resource center, usually a nonprofit run by anti-abortion-rights advocates targeted at young women who become pregnant unintentionally. The law is awaiting determination in the Senate, and if it passes, South Dakota will become the first state to have this mandate.

On the other side of the coin, the New York City Council has been trying to pass legislation that will force CPCs to post disclosure statements on their websites, ads and buildings explaining if they do not provide abortion services or contraceptive devices or make referrals to places that do. Failure to comply with these and other regulations would result in a monetary fine and possible closure.

And somewhere in the middle, Arizona’s House and Senate caucuses last month passed a resolution “recognizing” crisis pregnancy centers. It’s not a mandate but a resolution signifying the state’s support of CPCs.

The legislation culminates in three provisions that state that Arizona lawmakers “strongly support pregnancy care centers in their unique, positive contributions to the individual lives of women, men and babies, both born and unborn”; “commend the compassionate work of pregnancy care centers”; and “disapprove of the actions of any national, state or local group attempting to prevent pregnancy care centers from effectively serving women and men facing unplanned pregnancies.”

That last part, according to Republican Senator Nancy Barto, who introduced the resolution in the state Senate (an identical resolution was introduced in the House), is meant to help prevent legislation such as the pending one in New York City from making its way to Arizona.

“[States] don’t have the right to coerce or mandate certain information about what services CPCs provide,” Barto said.

Though she said she is not aware of any future legislation that would require women seeking an abortion in Arizona to visit a crisis pregnancy center. She also said she would not support that type of mandate. But Barto does think it is important to recognize the work that volunteers at CPCs do, something she said she has noticed and admired for decades.

So why introduce this resolution only now?

“There’s no time like the present,” Barto said, noting that it adds to the discussion when dealing with other Arizona bills related to abortion.

Democratic Rep. Katie Hobbs* was one of two representatives in the Health and Human Services Committee to vote against the House version of the resolution.

“This type of bill is really a pointless bill,” she said. “It doesn’t do anything at all, and it’s a cost to the taxpayer.”

She estimated that, if you factor in staff time, deliberations and the cost to send the resolutions to members of Arizona’s Congressional delegation in Washington, a passed resolution could cost around $4,000.

And it doesn’t do anything, Hobbs emphasized, except for singling out CPCs, which, she said, have been criticized for providing inaccurate information about abortion and reproductive health.

Abortion-rights advocates have been coming down on CPCs for a long time -– not only because they counsel women with the goal of having them choose not to have an abortion, but because many believe they spread misinformation to women. There has been controversy at the federal level about taxpayer dollars going to support CPCs.

The National Abortion Federation says crisis pregnancy centers are “deceptive facilities that look like medical clinics but are actually anti-choice centers that exist to keep women from having abortions.”

In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform released a report (PDF) prepared for California Rep. Henry Waxman on crisis pregnancy centers, which determined that the information released at these centers was often false or distorted. It was found that, from 2001 to 2005, 50 CPCs received $30 million in federal funding.

But back to Barto’s point about adding to the conversation of abortion-related legislation on the table, here’s what’s on tap in Arizona:

House Bill 2416, which on Monday passed the house 18 to 2 and has moved to the Senate, mandates two significant rules:

  • Prohibits abortion without the “voluntary and informed consent” of the woman receiving an abortion. “Informed” means that 24 hours before she can receive an abortion, a woman must be given specific information: the name of the physician to perform her abortion, the nature and associated medical risks, alternatives to abortion, probable gestational age and anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child. If the woman’s reason for obtaining the abortion is a medical emergency, the physician must inform her before the abortion (if possible) of all the medical indications that point to the necessity of the abortion, such as possibility of death or medical impairment.
  • Bans telemedicine – medication-induced abortion, in most cases the sole abortion method provided at many rural clinics throughout the state.
  • The legislation also imposes regulations for minors: They can’t get an abortion without parental consent, unless a judge authorizes it.

Still in the House is HB 2428, on emergency contraception: This legislation defines a pharmacy’s duty to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception. It would allowing a pharmacy must require its employees to notify in writing all categories or types of prescription drugs and devices that the employee would decline to fill because of the employees’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The pharmacy would then be required to accommodate the employee without causing “undue hardship to the pharmacy or its customers” and find another employee to provide the prescription. This legislation adds an exception: A health profession who provides care to a female patient “of reproductive age” who says she is a victim of rape (this law defines rape as “nonconsensual sexual intercourse involving penetration of the vulva”) must provide the patient with medical and funding information about the purpose, risks and availability of emergency contraception.

HB 2443, which moved on to the Senate, creates legal implications for all those involved in an abortion that is sought based on the sex or race of the child or the race of a parent of the child.

*We previously stated Rep. Hobbs was the only House representative to vote against the concurrent resolution to recognize pregnancy care centers in Arizona. Rep. Matt Heinz also voted against the resolution in the HHS Committee, but he voted for it in the Rules Committee.

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