The good news is, the political world was deeply interested in women’s issues yesterday. The bad news is, despite all the interest, the story that arguably mattered most was largely overlooked.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signed a measure yesterday banning most abortions in the state after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and requiring a state-mandated, medically-unnecessary ultrasound 24 hours before the procedure.
Characterizing the proposal as one that “protects” women, the Republican governor said in a press statement, “Knowing that abortions become riskier the later they are performed in pregnancy, it only makes sense to prohibit these procedures past 20 weeks.”
Allison Yarrow, meanwhile, highlighted some key details and explained that the new state law is “likely to deter many Arizona women from seeking an abortion, and to distress those who nonetheless go through with one.”
Life starts earliest in Arizona, which now defines gestational age as beginning on the first day of a woman’s last period, rather than at fertilization. In practice, that means the state has banned abortions after about 18 weeks (20 weeks from the last menstruation) except in the case of medical emergencies. While that provision has been much discussed, abortions after that point account for only about 1 percent of the procedures currently performed.
The stipulation likely to be most widely felt is what experts are calling an effective shutdown of medication abortions. These nonsurgical abortions are usually performed within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, and account for between 17 and 20 percent of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights advocacy group. While women often take the pills at clinics and in their homes, the bill now mandates that a medical provider must have hospital privileges within 30 miles of where the procedure takes place. Many times clinics or homes are not within 30 miles of hospitals, and the distance prevents providers from other cities or even states from caring for women, says Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. Another factor that could contribute to what Nash called a “shutdown” of medication abortions is that the law requires abortion pills to be administered using outdated protocols, confusing providers and obscuring proper use of the drugs.
While it becomes the seventh state to pass such legislation in the past two years, many Arizonans believe theirs is the most restrictive and sinister because of the degree to which it will legislate health care, thwart evidence-based medicine, and shame women.
This will probably generate a small fraction of the coverage in what a largely-unknown pundit said about Ann Romney’s professional background, but since policy matters more than rhetoric, I still believe what happened in Arizona yesterday will have a more meaningful impact on women’s lives.