As House Passes Bill on Abortion Clinics, a New Battle Looms in Phoenix

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PHOENIX — On Tuesday, a bill that would make it legal for the Department of Health Services to do spot-checks on abortion clinics was passed in the House.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy, who lobbied for the bill and has played a large role in pushing conservative bills through the House and Senate, was in attendance, along with representatives from Planned Parenthood, for what is shaping up as a new battle less than a week after Gov. Brewer vetoed the last bill promoted by Center for Arizona Policy, SB1062, the so-called religious-freedom bill that critics said enabled discrimination against the LGBT community.

The abortion-clinic bill would allow for the Department of Health Services to randomly check abortion clinics without a warrant. In order to perform an inspection, there would have to be reasonable cause, as determined by the director of the department.

The Democrats pointed to the last time that a state law allowed unannounced checks, in 1999, when that law was overturned by the 9th Circuit Court. “We’re wasting money; we’re wasting time on an issue that was already decided,” said Rep. Stefanie Mach (D-Tucson). “This is something that we all need to accept, that it’s unconstitutional.”

However, the Republicans insisted that the bill would be constitutional because the last time it was overturned, it was because Arizona didn’t have certain abortion-clinic regulations at the time.

Democrats also drew comparisons to Gov. Brewer’s reason for vetoing SB1062, saying the bill is not an important priority of the state. Rep. Justin Olson (R-Mesa) disagreed.

“This question that this bill gets at is a very important priority of this state,” he said.

While Democrats acknowledged that women’s safety is important, they pointed out that the Department of Health Services can still check clinics now, if a warrant has been obtained first. They argued that the bill was unnecessary and would violate the rights of women.

“I will not stand for our constitutional rights to be violated,” Rep. Victoria Steele (D-Tucson) said. “This will cost taxpayers a lot of money. It’s unnecessary, it uses scare tactics, and again it’s an unconstitutional violation of a woman’s right to privacy.”
Rep. Chad Campbell (D-Phoenix) said he was concerned that the unannounced checks would invite potential abuses on a process in which women are facing an extremely difficult decision.

“To open the door for potential abuses for that process, for that experience to begin with in a way to harass or scare somebody that’s already going through what is probably the most significant and most difficult decision they’ve ever had to make in their life is horrifying to me,” Campbell said.

The Republicans disagreed.

“This bill will do nothing to harass patients,” said bill sponsor Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria) said, “The Department of Health Services is the one in charge, they’re the ones doing the inspections, or people they designate to do these unannounced inspections. They do it in every other health clinic, every other hospital in the state, there’s been no privacy leaked in those places.”

Lesko went on to argue that this bill should be a non-partisan issue about safety for women. “This is not a pro-life vs. pro-choice issue.” she said, “This is about the healthiness of a facility where a woman goes to get a procedure done. That is what this bill is about.”

The Republicans had the final say. The bill narrowly passed 34-22, with four people not voting.

—Story courtesy of the Arizona Sonora News Service—

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