Bill would have repealed requirement that doctors try to save fetuses that survive abortion

James Baird (left) and the Morgan family (from left), Jude, Zack, Zoe, and Preston Morgan, protest outside state Capitol against a bill to repeal a 2017 abortion law. (Photo by Oskar Agredano/Cronkite News)

Anti-abortion advocates oppose House Bill 2696, which would repeal an abortion bill passed in 2017. (Photo by Oskar Agredano/Cronkite News)

Protesters of all ages held signs displaying anti-abortion messages outside the Capitol. More than a dozen children, accompanied by their families, participated in the protest. (Photo by Oskar Agredano/Cronkite News)

People attending the House Judiciary Committee hearing on an abortion bill were told to leave their protest signs outside the building. (Photo by Oskar Agredano/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – The deep divisions over abortion in Arizona re-emerged Wednesday in a political free-for-all at a legislative hearing for House Bill 2696, which would have repealed a law requiring doctors to attempt to save the lives of fetuses born alive during an abortion.

The clash started when Democrat Rep. Raquel Terán, the bill’s sponsor, asked the committee to hold the bill until she clarified the language.

Terán, who drafted the bill after her sister had a miscarriage 24 weeks into her pregnancy, said it would repeal certain protections to the fetus so a mother can discuss options with her doctor.

“I’m asking that this bill get held,” she said, asking Republican Rep. John Allen, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, to follow customary courtesy in the Legislature to hold off on the bill because she is the primary sponsor.

“I’m asking respectfully, Mr. Chairman, that this bill be held,” Terán repeated. Then, before a packed hearing room and an overflow crowd watching on screens nearby, the two lawmakers sparred back and forth.

“That is a courtesy that has been recognized but not always followed,” Allen said.

The Democratic leadership had signed onto a bill with at least a dozen sponsors, he said, signaling it was important. To delay that would deny a “core value” of the party on a key issue, Allen said.

“It would …” Terán started to say.

Allen cut her off: “I am the chairman and I have decided to hear the bill.”

The exchange capped a morning, Terán told the committee, that began with another member of the committee telling her “today was going to be a circus” and the committee member intended to be “part of the circus.”

The Judiciary Committee held two roll-call votes to stop the bill from being discussed. Both failed and the hearing went on.

Anti-abortion activists crowd an overflow room during the House Judiciary hearing on a bill that would repeal protections for fetuses born alive during abortions. (Photo by Kelsey Mo/Cronkite News)

HB 2696 would get rid of the requirement to provide treatment for fetuses that are born alive following an abortion, a law passed in 2017 that expanded previous abortion law. The 2017 law also requires an abortion facility have at least one person in the room trained in neonatal resuscitation. HB 2696 also would drop a requirement that physicians report any efforts taken to save a fetus’s life to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Terán said the bill is personal. She said her sister had a miscarriage at 24 weeks. The Phoenix lawmaker said she remembers walking into the hospital and seeing her sister cradle the baby, which doctors said would not survive.

“She spent the few moments with that baby. If this law had been in effect, they would have taken the baby from her arms for hopeless medical procedures,” Terán told committee members.

After she finished speaking, one person after another testified before the committee.

About 10 anti-abortion advocates spoke in opposition to the bill. No one from the public spoke in support.

Jamie Jeffries, the leader of Let Life Live, a Phoenix anti-abortion group, said even if a child isn’t wanted, that child is a separate person who deserves “to be saved.”

“It’s not about if the procedure is a miscarriage or if it is an abortion, it’s about the fact that it results in a living child,” she said.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Arizona Center for Policy, a group that takes a hard stance against abortion, said the issue is “not pro-life or pro-choice.”

“Once a baby has survived an abortion, that is a life that deserves to be protected,” Herrod said.

After people finished testifying and committee members approved an amendment to HB 2696, Allen called for a vote to advance the bill out of committee. The final vote: 8-2. The bill did not move forward.

The crowd cheered and clapped.

– Video by Gabriella Bachara/Cronkite News

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