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Bill Changing Abortion Definition May Limit Rural Health Care

February 7, 2011

PHOENIX - Women's health care in rural Arizona may suffer as the result of a little-known provision of an informed-consent bill that is moving through the Arizona House. The bill would redefine abortion, requiring regulations that govern surgical abortions to apply to non-surgical procedures, such as abortion-pill prescriptions, as well. Among other mandates would be the presence of a physician.

However, women's health clinics in rural areas do not perform surgical abortions and rarely are staffed by doctors. For them, Planned Parenthood director of Public Policy Michelle Steinberg points out, the measure makes no sense.

"If you come into a clinic to have a surgical abortion, there are certain things the clinic has to maintain in order to provide quality care. Those things are simply not necessary when you're handing someone a pill."

Supporters of the bill say it will help protect the health and safety of the women of Arizona. But Steinberg says the bill does nothing to make it safer to use an abortion pill. Instead, she says, it places barriers and obstacles in the way of women seeking abortion care.

Abortion-by-pill is limited to the first nine weeks of pregnancy. Steinberg warns that the proposed law could end up delaying care for rural Arizona women, with negative consequences.

"If you can't access care and you delay your abortion, you could very easily end up having to have a surgical abortion as opposed to a medical abortion, which is much more invasive and potentially more risky."

Non-surgical abortions currently account for half of all abortions in Arizona.

The bill also prohibits using interactive audio-visual devices, or telemedicine, for doctors to counsel women seeking an abortion. Planned Parenthood medical director Dr. DeShawn Taylor notes that existing Arizona law encourages the use of telemedicine as a cost-saving strategy.

"This has been touted as a tremendous improved technology in the way we can deliver health care to people where access is an issue. The alternative is that the patient gets no contact."

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ