A measure that passed Arizona’s Senate claims that it would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but experts say that the bill is far more restrictive, effectively banning abortions after 18 weeks and declaring that a woman could be pregnant 2 weeks before she even had sex.
Arizona’s HB 2036 takes Nebraska’s 20-week abortion ban one step further by starting the clock on pregnancies at the woman’s last last menstrual period, which could be two weeks before fertilization.
Specifically, the bill would “[p]rohibit abortions at or after twenty weeks of gestation, except in cases of a medical emergency, based on the documented risks to women’s health and the strong medical evidence that unborn children feel pain during an abortion at that gestational age,” where gestational age is defined as “age of the unborn child as calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.”
Guttmacher Institute’s State Issues Manager Elizabeth Nash told Raw Story that obstetricians start the clock on pregnancies after the “last menstrual period” to “be on the safe side.”
“Certainly, they are trying move the gestational cutoff from what had been over the last two years a 20-week gestational cutoff to an 18-week gestational cutoff,” Nash explained. “At the same time, they are trying to say, ‘Oh, this is a 20-week abortion ban.’ And they get away with that with the definition of gestational age that’s in the bill.”
RH Reality Check’s Amanda Marcotte noted that this means legislators are arguing women could be pregnant before they even have sex.
“Think about the implications down the road,” she wrote. “If a woman is ‘pregnant’ two weeks before she becomes pregnant, than any fertile woman—including those currently menstruating!—should really be considered pregnant. After all, we don’t know the future. We don’t know that any non-pregnant woman couldn’t be pregnant two weeks from now, making her retroactively pregnant now.”
“Considering that it’s anti-choice nuts we’re talking about, it’s safe to assume that they’d simply prefer a situation where all women of reproductive age are considered to be pregnant, on the grounds that they could be two weeks from now,” Marcotte added. “Better safe than sorry, especially if that mentality means you get to exert maximum control over the bodies of women of reproductive age.”
At this point, Nash said the Arizona bill has “very good chances of passage” because it is largely misunderstood.
“The media has been talking about this as a 20-week abortion ban without, I think, really looking into the definition,” she observed. “Two weeks is a long time. … [The bill] does not talk about any sort of fetal impairment. In this time frame is when you would have an [amniocentesis] done or other tests and it takes away women’s options if there is a problem with the pregnancy.”
Because clinicians use the definition of “last menstrual period” to determine the start of the pregnancy, Nash did not expect any legal challenges on those grounds — but the bill has other problems.
“What the Supreme Court has said is that states have the right to ban abortion after viability, but that any ban on abortions after viability must protect a woman’s life or health,” she told Raw Story. “So, a law like this would be in conflict with those decisions in the sense that it bans abortion much earlier than viability and does not take into account the full ramifications of life and health.”
David Edwards has served as an editor at Raw Story since 2006. His work can also be found at Crooks & Liars, and he's also been published at The BRAD BLOG. He came to Raw Story after working as a network manager for the state of North Carolina and as as engineer developing enterprise resource planning software. Follow him on Twitter at @DavidEdwards.
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