From the Ideologues

Planned Parenthood fights new abortion laws that force doctors, according to one lawmaker, to lie

When Matt Heinz stood on the Arizona House of Representatives floor in March, the Democratic lawmaker could have easily turned his remarks into a pro-choice tirade.

Instead, the District 29 freshman representative took the microphone and presented a few facts that perhaps only an internist-turned-politician could explain to the government's Republican majority.

The topic was a proposed bill placing restrictions on how women receive abortions in Arizona. The bill was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in July and goes into effect on Sept. 30.

Heinz spoke to fellow lawmakers in a matter-of-fact tone, as if he were teaching a sixth-grade sex-education class; he even joked that he wished he'd brought his plastic uterus model. However, he also offered criticism—specifically pointing out that one of the laws asks physicians to lie to patients, because it requires doctors to read a script telling patients that if they keep their pregnancies, there are state social services available to help.

"As we all know, in the midst of this budget crisis, look at (the Department of Economic Security). All these services ... have been greatly and adversely impacted. And I'm just wondering if it's appropriate for us to force a provider or physician to tell a woman she would have help when, indeed, she would not," Heinz said.

When Heinz now looks back at that day, he laments the lack of media attention the matter received. For example, he says nine physicians testified against the laws, but were essentially ignored by the press.

"The other side stood up talking about abortionists, and (Rep.) Warde Nichols talked about a woman down on her luck who didn't have an abortion, and (he said), 'That child was me.' It was just weird," Heinz recalls.

But what troubles Heinz most is the far-right Christian ideology behind the laws. Lawmakers partnered with Cathi Harrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, the same folks who gave Arizona the ballot measures banning gay marriage.

Religious ideology should be left out of the Legislature, Heinz says, but the current Republican majority is all about Christian ideology.

"(Harrod) has carte blanche for whatever kind of discriminatory, hateful legislation she wants to see go through—either taking health care from domestic partners, or making it cumbersome for women to get their health needs taken care of through their providers.

"(The new abortion) laws really do change and redefine the rules of medicine. You can't just rewrite science or policy. ... This script for physicians forces them to make things up, to tell these women about the wonderful public services we have for you and your baby. ... Now there are waiting lists for most of the programs, because the Legislature has been cutting the programs that they say are available."

Harrod responds that there are public and private agencies ready to help women and their newborn children. However, when asked what they are, she can't identify them.

"Look, I answered your question. There are plenty of agencies to help women," Harrod snaps.

In response to the new laws, Planned Parenthood Arizona filed a lawsuit on Monday, Sept. 14, in Maricopa County Superior Court. The organization is challenging a clause that forces minors to get notarized parental consent for an abortion; a requirement that forces women to do an in-person consultation with the abortion provider 24 hours before the procedure; and a ban on advanced nurse practitioners from performing in-clinic abortions.

Patti Caldwell, chief operating officer of Planned Parenthood Arizona, says her organization believes these restrictions will greatly affect women who live in rural communities.

"The 24-hour waiting period is one of the really distributing things about this law. This is stricter than any place else in the country. This legislation is insulting to both women and to their doctors," Caldwell says.

The restriction on nurse practitioners from providing abortion services, however, will affect Planned Parenthood the most. Caldwell says violence and threats against abortion providers is partially to blame for the decrease in the number of physicians who will perform abortions in the region. The one area nurse practitioner with Planned Parenthood performs about 1,200 abortions per year—some 60 to 70 percent of all abortions in Southern Arizona, Caldwell says.

"These mid-level clinicians are the backbone of our health-care delivery system, particularly community health care. They may do less-complex procedures, but they are critically important to routine wellness kinds of care, as well as interventions," Caldwell says.

Caldwell says she hopes a Maricopa County judge will place a preliminary injunction on the new laws. If that doesn't happen, Planned Parenthood will continue to pursue legal action, although the organization will comply with the laws and ensure that women get the services they need, she says.

More than 16,000 people are on Planned Parenthood's list of individuals in Arizona who responded to the state Legislature to oppose the bill.

"People were sounding the alarms. ... Unfortunately, there are more votes in the state Legislature interested in outlawing or restricting abortion. Clearly, the governor believes it is good public policy. But it is important to keep abortion very private between a woman, her physician and her family," Caldwell says.

Harrod says the Center for Arizona Policy will be active in the lawsuit.

"One of our top priorities is to make sure the law is adequately defended in the state and federal courts," she says. There are a variety of ways we can participate, but I'm not going to tell you what those are."

Harrod says the center represents Arizona families concerned with the state legal process, and wants to protect women and families "and make sure they get accurate information before they get an abortion. ... If the abortion industry says they're getting enough information, what's their beef with the new law? The new law is a result of testimony from many years from women who've had abortions who were not given enough information about the risk and alternatives."

Heinz remains disappointed that religious ideology from Harrod's organization is determining the actions of many of his fellow lawmakers.

"This legislation was cobbled together as part of a wish list that came from the Center for Arizona Policy—an ideologically driven, religious based group that is basically legislating their own ideologies through the majority in the Legislature. It is a disheartening and sad thing I've had to watch up close," Heinz says.

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