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Arizona doctors must now treat fetuses born alive during abortions even if they won’t survive

Arizona now has one of the most restrictive regulations in the country on the procedures doctors must perform in the event of a live birth during an abortion, which almost never happens.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill Friday that requires doctors to keep fetuses born during a medically induced birth alive. The legislation, Senate Bill 1367, sat on his desk for less than 48 hours before becoming law and will take effect this summer.


Supporters of the bill say it gives every baby a chance at life; opponents — many of whom are the gynecologists and obstetricians performing these procedures — argue the bill will cause unnecessary pain and separate babies from their mothers in the likely final moments of their lives.

“I believe that grieving families and doctors should make these decisions. Government does not belong there,” Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein, who voted against the bill, said in a statement, according to the Arizona Republic.

Similar to other states, Arizona law previously held that any baby “delivered alive” must be treated and given a chance at survival, but “delivered alive” hadn’t been defined. Doctors took the law to mean that if, in their view, the baby had no chance of survival, they wouldn’t try to save it. The recent bill changes that, however, and defines “delivered alive” to mean a multitude of signs that don’t necessarily reveal if the baby would survive: a heartbeat, breath, umbilical cord pulsation, or any clear movement of voluntary muscles. Doctors can stop treatment only after they’ve deemed death to be imminent.

For any abortion taking place after 20 weeks of pregnancy, doctors now have to have neonatal equipment and trained staff on hand. The law doesn’t just pertain to abortions either, but to any medically induced, live, early birth — including ones due to the detection of a fatal fetal anomaly, like anencephaly, where babies lack a brain and cranium above the base of the skull.

But abortions rarely take place at that point in a pregnancy, and early-term abortions are remarkably safe. According to Centers for Disease Control data from 2013, 66 percent of abortions were performed before eight weeks, and 92 percent were performed before 13 weeks. And a first-trimester abortion poses a less than .05 percent chance of any major complication that would require further hospital care, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Ducey signed three other abortion bills into law last week as well. One regulates research on fetuses. Another strips state employees of their ability to make donations to Planned Parenthood through payroll deduction services, and a third bill requires doctors to follow outdated guidelines in the use of mifepristone, a drug used to induce a miscarriage. Planned Parenthood said the bill violates a Federal Drug Administration rule passed earlier in the week.