Why Arizona's New Abortion Law Is Being Called the 'Strictest in the Nation'

April 3rd 2017

Ethan Simon

Arizona's Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill into law last week that dictates how doctors must proceed if an aborted fetus is "born alive."

The new law requires doctors to attempt to resuscitate any fetus that is delivered alive as part of an abortion procedure. News outlets across the country have already labeled the bill "restrictive" and the "strictest in the nation."

Doug Ducey

What does the law say?

The law requires doctors to try to save the life of any fetus born alive in the process of an abortion. But, as with all arguments related to reproductive rights, the definition of "alive" is contentious, and detractors say it's  simply an attempt to associate the exercising of reproductive rights with the taking of a life. Indeed, an analysis by Rewire suggests the problem the law aims to address — of fetuses being born alive — does not exist.

"This law totally overreaches into our labor and delivery rooms," said Julie Kwatra, an OB/Gyn in Scottsdale, and the Legislative Chair of the Arizona chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

What does it mean for a fetus to be born alive?

The bill features the first-ever definition of what constitutes a live delivery in legal statute. According to The Daily Courier, the law effectively states that "any fetus or embryo, no matter how premature," is alive if it "shows breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation, or 'definite movement of voluntary muscles.''" But that's a definition of "alive" that would include a number of fetuses which would not be viable — in other words, a heartbeat doesn't necessarily mean that a fetus has a real chance at survival. 

Arizona State Capitol Building

The law doesn't take long-term survival into account.

Once a fetus exhibits any of the characteristics listed in the bill, doctors must do everything they can to keep it alive.

According to The Daily Courier, when several Arizona representatives complained about the needless prolonging of an ultimately doomed fetus's suffering, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, a Republican, created an escape hatch of sorts, allowing doctors to abandon life-prolonging measures in the event of a "specific lethal fetal condition." Under the law, that's a condition identified before birth that will "result, with reasonably certainty, in the death of the unborn child within three months after birth.”

But the exception doesn't apply to all unviable fetuses. The exception "will apply only to those cases where an abnormality has been diagnosed ahead of time," The Daily Courier reported. "Doctors are still required to do everything possible for any other live birth, including on a fetus before the point of viability."

Pro-Choice Demonstrators

How have opponents responded?

Democrats in the state had choice words for proponents of the bill. Arizona Rep. Mike Epstein, a Democrat, told The Arizona Republic, "I believe that grieving families and doctors should make these decisions." And during debate, Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel said the law "will do no more than temporarily prolong the act of dying."