WASHINGTON – Arizona is one of 13 states to turn “hostile” toward abortion rights during the last decade, according to a report Thursday from a national reproductive health organization.
The Guttmacher Institute said Arizona and 12 other states enacted tougher abortion restrictions since 2000, doubling to 26 the number of states it deems “hostile.”
But none have shifted as dramatically as Arizona, “almost entirely because of the departure of Gov. Janet Napolitano, who repeatedly vetoed provisions to limit abortion access,” the report said.
Arizona was the only one of 18 “supportive” states in 2000 to move to the other end of the spectrum by 2011.
“There are very few states that are so heavily entrenched in working to restrict abortion access than Arizona,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at Guttmacher who co-authored the report. “In the past three years, the legislature has seemingly spent all their time on abortion restrictions.”
State Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, said pro-life lawmakers have “accomplished many of our objectives” since 2009, a trend he said reflects public sentiment in Arizona and the nation.
“I think there’s a general conception among the general population that this is a child within the womb with rights separate and apart from the mother,” said Ash.
Of 10 major abortion restrictions studied by Guttmacher, Arizona had just one in 2005 – requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. By 2011, it had five, Nash said, including mandatory ultrasounds before an abortion and limited coverage under some health plans.
She said the state’s shift has been rapid, beginning in 2009 when Napolitano resigned as governor to run the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
“Governorships play a key role and that is echoed in Arizona where, for many years, Gov. Napolitano was able to veto abortion restrictions that came to her desk or, just by her presence, stop bills from coming to a vote,” Nash said.
Napolitano, a Democrat, was replaced by then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer, a Republican, giving the GOP control of the state legislative and executive branches.
“In three short years, the state has not only flipped from being supportive of abortion rights to being very hostile to abortion rights,” Nash said. “It’s now a testing ground for abortion restrictions, and the legislature and the governor seem to relish that.”
Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, a nonprofit focused on protecting family values, agreed Arizona’s abortion laws have changed substantially under Brewer, but she rejected the “hostile” label.
“Arizona has become one of the most improved states to protect unborn babies and the health of women,” she said, calling the state “more reflective of Arizonans’ values.”
But state Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, disagreed. She called the changes “invasive legislation with religious overtones that are out of touch with reality and the needs that women have.”
She and other pro-choice advocates said they do not expect pro-life lawmakers to ease up as long as they maintain control of state government.
“As long as Gov. Brewer is at the top, the Center for Arizona Policy will not stop pushing this legislation,” Cajero Bedford said.
Michelle Steinberg, public policy director for Planned Parenthood Arizona, agreed.
“There’s no question that the departure of Napolitano set up a perfect storm to come after Planned Parenthood and come after women,” said Steinberg, adding that pro-life lawmakers are “so not done” pushing their agenda.
She called bills passed since Napolitano’s departure “some of the worst anti-women’s health bills in the country…. There are bills that are being introduced that are incredibly intrusive and discriminatory.”
For Ash, however, the shift has not been about making Arizona a leader in abortion restrictions. The changes have come after mindful deliberation and with the best interests of women and unborn children in mind, he said.
“We’re requiring people to think about it and make sure they are adequately advised of the pros and cons of their decision,” he said. “For my part it’s not an effort to be a national leader, it’s an effort to do what is right.”