PHOENIX — The Arizona House on Tuesday approved the state’s latest anti-abortion legislation, a sweeping bill that generally bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and institutes new disclosure mandates that require the state maintain a website with images of fetuses at various stages of development for women to view.
The Senate approved the bill previously, so the House’s 37-22 Tuesday sends the bill to Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who has signed previous anti-abortion legislation.
Several Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in opposing the Republican-sponsored bill, while one Democrat joined most Republicans in supporting it as more than a third of the 60 representatives rose to explain their votes.
The 20-week abortion ban, which does not apply in medical emergencies, would affect a tiny percentage of abortions performed in Arizona. The state would join Nebraska and a handful of other states that have similar bans.
Critics argued that doctors cannot determine to a precise week how far along the pregnancy has progressed and that setting an “arbitrary” deadline would likely prevent physicians from timely diagnosing anomalies in the fetus.
The women involved “are not abortion-minded patients ... but something is terribly wrong,” said Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who voted against the bill. “This bill goes too far,” she added later.
Supporters disputed that, saying the risks to women’s health after 20 weeks are much greater. They also claimed that after that point in development, a fetus can feel pain.
“To sit here and say that it is OK to murder these babies after 20 weeks is unconscionable,” said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park.
Arizona now allows abortions up to when a fetus can survive outside of the womb. That’s generally considered to be around 23 to 24 weeks.
Arizona already has laws about “informed consent” requirements, a prohibition on a type of late-term abortions and regulations of abortion clinics.
The 2012 legislation would require the state health department maintain an extensive website that provides information about alternatives to abortion, medical risks and descriptions and images of fetuses at various stages of development.
The proposal increases the current requirement that an ultrasound be performed before an abortion from one hour to 24 hours before. It also requires abortion clinics to post signs providing notice that it’s illegal for anyone to coerce a woman to have an abortion.
In wording similar to that in the laws of other states with 20-week bans, the Arizona legislation specifies that the state’s ban would start from a point “as determined with reasonable probability by the attending physician.”
However, the American Civil Liberties Union points to other wording in Arizona law that the organization contends would make the Arizona proposal more restrictive by basing the calculation on the first day of the woman’s last menstrual cycle.
If doctors must use the calculation based on a menstrual cycle, that could effectively ban abortions that are only 18 weeks along, said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
That cutoff could occur before women undergo some prenatal exams that could reveal information about the health of the woman and fetus, which makes it “the most extreme abortion bill in the country,” Dalven said recently.
That’s not so, said Deborah Sheasby, an attorney with the Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative advocacy group that supports the legislation.
Sheasby said doctors can take other factors into consideration, such as an ultrasound, when calculating the progression of the pregnancy.
No matter what calculation is used, opponents say doctors cannot determine down to a precise day or hour how far along a pregnancy has progressed and the “arbitrary deadline” could prevent doctors from diagnosing anomalies in the fetus or give women enough time to determine how they want to proceed.
AP reporter Michelle L. Price contributed.