Women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them would face murder charges if a bill introduced by Rep. Walt Blackman and Rep. Brenda Barton wins approval.
Moreover, Barton and Blackman have also introduced HB 2184, which would impose broad new restrictions on sex education programs in schools, although the counties in District 6 have among the highest teen birth rates in the state.
At press time, neither bill has yet advanced out of committee, according to the bill tracking report on the state legislature’s website.
The bill outlawing abortion would obligate the state attorney general to file murder charges if local prosecutors refuse, according to the fine print of HB 2650, introduced by Blackman (R-Snowflake) and co-sponsored by nine Republicans including Barton (R-Payson).
A group of supporters several weeks ago staged a “Rally for Life” gathering in Phoenix to support the bill, calling its introduction “courageous.”
However, other groups and lawmakers blasted the bill on social media, including Democratic lawmakers who called it “sickening” and “unbelievable.”
Blackman brushed off questions about whether the law would survive a U.S. Supreme Court challenge, which has repeatedly overturned much less draconian restrictions on abortion on the legal theory that women have a broad right to privacy in making such decision under the Constitution established in Roe v. Wade.
However, the new Supreme Court majority put in place during the Trump administration will likely take a different stance on abortion than past courts.
Blackman was uncompromising in his belief that any form of pregnancy termination constitutes murder at any point in development of the embryo or pregnancy.
“Life starts at conception. It’s time to abolish abortion in Arizona,” he said.
The bill does not include an exception for rape or incest — requiring a woman to carry the pregnancy to term even in those cases.
“If you want to spout, ‘my body, my body choice,’ you need to spend some time in our Arizona penal system. If you are going to kill and end the life of another human being, that is murder,” he said during a livestream hosted on his Facebook page.
He dismissed as the U.S. Supreme Court ruing in Roe v. Wade as merely an “opinion” and said the court should honor Arizona’s state sovereignty.
Arizona has about 13,000 abortions annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. — roughly 10 for every 1,000 live births. The state already has a variety of restrictions on abortions, including a ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The state also requires a mandatory ultrasound and a 24-hour waiting period, as well as barring the use of public funds for most abortions. Public funds pay for about 12 abortions annually, based on the health of the mother.
The state in 2018 had just one abortion clinic in northern Arizona. The number of abortions preformed has declined from about 20,000 annually to about 13,000 in the past decade.
Barton and Blackman have also introduced HB 2184, which would require districts to obtain written permission for any sex education classes, after making available to parents all materials presented in each class. The bill would bar any required sex education courses, ban any mention of sex education topics like sexuality, gender or health issues prior to sixth grade, even with parental permission.
“Sex education means any course of study or instruction on human sexuality, sexual activity, sexual conduct, intimate relationships, sexually transmitted infections, contraception, pregnancy, acquired immune deficiency syndrome or the human immunodeficiency virus,” according to the bill.
Arizona has one of the highest teen birth rates in the state — about 27 per 1,000 teens — about 18% above the U.S. average. The teen birth rate has been falling in recent years, for reasons that remain unclear. Some studies attribute the drop to an expansion in sex education classes and others to more easily available birth control.
Studies suggest that it’s connected to a decline in sexual activity by teens, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Between 1991 and 2015, the teen birth rate dropped by 64%, although it remains much higher in the U.S. than other industrialized western nations.
Rural Arizona had among the highest teen birth rates in the state in 2018, according to the state Department of Health Service.
In that year, the statewide average was 27 births per 1,000 teens statewide.
District 6 had some of the highest rates in the state, including 51 per 1,000 in Gila County — tied with La Paz County for the highest rate in the state.
HB 2184 would make it substantially more difficult to offer sex education and health classes by requiring districts to provide parents with copies of all materials presented in the class programs.