Controversial 'Delivered Alive' abortion bill moves toward final votePosted: Updated:
Supporters say it protects fetuses that are born alive during an abortion. Critics say it forces doctors to perform painful and futile therapy in other types of births.
The House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted along party lines Wednesday to advance Senate Bill 1367 to the full House floor. The bill is now one major vote away from the Governor’s desk after clearing the state Senate last month.
The goal of the bill, according to lead sponsor state Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), is to ensure that doctors are doing everything possible to save a newborn delivered alive at 20 weeks gestation or beyond. The bill outlines certain minimum care and reporting standards and creates sanctions and penalties for hospitals that do not comply.
"There's a child in front of us that's alive, could you give the child some basic medical care?" Smith told the committee.
But neo-natal doctors and the Arizona Medical Association testified strongly against the bill Wednesday, saying the legislation would go far beyond failed abortions and would apply to cases involving wanted pregnancies that end tragically early.
Doctors argued that in those cases, such as cases involving a fatal birth defect, parents should have the option of spending their final moments cradling their newborn child.
“All of those kindnesses allow you to grieve. Allow you to get over it. Allow you to move on,” said Anmarie Stone.
At 22 weeks pregnant, Stone suddenly went into labor and doctors determined her only option was to deliver the baby. Specialists informed her that the fetus had essentially no chance of survival, and if it did, he would likely be deaf, blind and have severe cognitive issues. She and her husband elected to forgo invasive medical treatment and spent their final moments holding the boy.
“You start doing medical intervention, it starts to seem cruel. Just do what you can to be kind and to let the parents move on,” she said.
Following Stone’s testimony, an expert told the committee that under a recent amendment to the bill, it would no longer apply to spontaneous early delivery. But medical professionals who spoke Wednesday expressed concern that the legislation would apply in cases where a fetus has a fatal congenital defect and doctors induce labor early.
Current Arizona law requires physicians to use "all available means and medical skills" to preserve the life of a fetus that is delivered alive. But according to testimony, many medical experts interpret the current law to include a degree of flexibility, where physicians are only required to do everything possible if they believe the fetus has a chance of surviving.
For babies delivered at 20 to 21 weeks gestation, doctors consider resuscitation futile, and the national standard of care is to provide "comfort measures," according to a letter from Dr. Peter Stevenson.
At 22 weeks, he said the survival rate for newborns without significant defects is between 7 and 11 percent. At 23 weeks, the survival rate for similar newborns is between 20 and 40 percent.
Stevenson testified Wednesday that medical intervention on newborns delivered at 20 to 21 weeks would simply inflict pain and suffering on fetuses that have no chance of survival. He argued that would violate a physician’s Hippocratic Oath. He said the current standard for infants delivered from 22 to 23 weeks is to evaluate each case individually for the viability of invasive treatment, along with considering the wishes of the parents.
Supporters of the bill argued that any newborn showing a heartbeat, breathing or voluntary movement warrants the highest degree of medical intervention.
The committee voted 6-3 to recommend passage, with all Republicans supporting the legislation and all Democrats opposed.
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