Why Arizona’s New Anti-Abortion Bill Is Worse Than It Seems

The Arizona Senate approved a measure that bans abortions in the state after 20 weeks, joining a handful of states that have passed the same measure. Republicans argue 20 weeks is the point in gestation at which a fetus can feel pain — a widely disputed claim — but Democrats argue that setting an “arbitrary” deadline could prevent doctors from diagnosing fetal abnormalities.

And it turns out that Arizona’s definition of 20 weeks into a pregnancy is even more restrictive than the 20 week abortion restrictions that six other states have approved. As Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard points out, the legislation “states that the gestational age of the fetus should be ‘calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman,'” which means that the bill could ban abortions at 18 weeks:

Most women ovulate about 14 or 15 days after their period starts, and women can usually get pregnant from sexual intercourse that occured anywhere between five days before ovulation and a day after it. Arizona’s law would start the clock at a woman’s last period—which means, in practice, that the law prohibits abortion later than 18 weeks after a woman actually becomes pregnant. […]

Although it includes exceptions if the pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the woman, there are no exceptions if, for instance, the fetus is found to have a life-threatening condition or other severe impairment. Banning abortions at the 18-week mark would also preclude women from obtaining information about the condition of the fetus, as many medical tests are either not performed or are not conclusive at that early date.

The bill doesn’t stop there. Under this law, if a doctor performs an abortion after that 18-weeks, he or she can be charged with a crime, have his or her license revoked or suspended, and can be held liable for civil penalties if the father of the fetus decides to pursue legal action. The bill also requires a mandatory ultrasound for anyone seeking an abortion at any stage of pregnancy (hello, transvaginal probes) and mandates that a doctor offer to show a pregnant woman the ultrasound, describe it to her verbally and provide her with a photo of “the unborn child.” It would also require a woman to wait 24 hours after the ultrasound before she can obtain an abortion.

Now, Arizona’s restrictive abortion ban heads back to the state House for final approval. Along with the six that already have the measure, eight other states also considered the same abortion restriction this year. The Georgia legislature approved its version yesterday.

Despite claims by Arizona Republicans that banning abortion after 20 weeks is good for the mothers’ health, these states are enacting policies that only serve to further limit women’s access to abortions. Tossing up roadblocks like requiring ultrasounds does not change women’s minds before they have an abortion, and banning abortions after a set point for arbitrary reason only prevents women from making decisions about their own health.