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Grieving Couples Snared in Arizona’s Anti-Abortion Politics (Updated)

Nicole Knight

An Arizona woman was halfway through a pregnancy when doctors said there was no hope for her fetus. Legislation now before the Arizona governor inserts the state in these personal decisions.

UPDATE, APRIL 3, 8:29 A.M.: Gov. Doug Ducey (R) on Friday signed SB 1367, AZCentral.com reported. The move was criticized by the state’s medical professionals and celebrated by the leader of Arizona’s radical anti-choice organization, the Center for Arizona Policy.

Anmarie Stone was midway through her pregnancy when a nighttime trip to the bathroom produced a gush of blood. The Phoenix woman was rushed to Good Samaritan Medical Center, where she received devastating news: She was 3 centimeters dilated. The amniotic sac protruded outside her uterus.

Doctors couldn’t sew up her cervix. Her risk of infection was high.

Only a few weeks earlier, Stone and her husband had picked out a name: Trevor. Now, doctors told her Trevor could suffer a prolonged painful death in intensive care, or a lifetime of devastating disabilities.

Her family faced a choice.

Legislation now on the desk of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) would insert the state into this painful, personal decision. The legislation, SB 1367, dictates a certain level of resuscitative care in the rare cases when a later abortion procedure produces a live birth. “Induced terminations,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, resulted in an estimated 143 infant deaths nationally between 2003 and 2014, and the majority of which involved pregnancy complications.

Though these instances are exceedingly rare, recent highly politicized reports of two live births following terminations in Arizona have galvanized GOP lawmakers, as Rewire reported. Attorneys general in 38 states told Rewire they found no basis or evidence for prosecuting doctors for delivering and then killing a fetus, but anti-choice groups and Arizona lawmakers, including the bill’s author, continue to perpetuate this myth.

“All we’re saying is if this is happening, we want to make sure that the baby is taken care of,” Sen. Steve Smith (R-Maricopa), the bill’s sponsor, told Rewire in a phone interview. 

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The bill was written to target the few facilities in Arizona that provide abortion care past 20 weeks’ gestation, requiring a staff member to be trained in neonatal resuscitation and establishing a host of new reporting requirements, including new rules from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

Ensnared in the legislation, though, are Arizona families who might wish not to take extraordinary measures to resuscitate a fetus delivered past 20 weeks’ gestation. Although Stone didn’t have an abortion, the state would likely view the fetus as “delivered alive,” the language used in the bill.

“This bill is draconian government overreach and will do more to hurt than it will to help,” Stone said in testimony to lawmakers.

If the governor signs the legislation, doctors would be required to tell women, like Stone, “orally and in person” that their fetus was “delivered alive” and follow a “protocol for rapid neonatal resuscitation,” even when couples might wish only to grieve.

“We are doing all these invasive procedures and depriving the parents of time to grieve—for nothing,” Dr. Julie Kwatra, legislative chair of the Arizona chapter of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), told Rewire.

ACOG and the local chapter of the American Medical Association are among the groups opposing the legislation.

Arizona’s Republican-controlled house and state senate sent SB 1367 to the governor’s desk on Wednesday, only hours after anti-abortion videographer David Daleiden, who faces felony charges in California in connection with making unlawful recordings, released the latest in a series of secretly recorded videos of abortion providers—this time of an Arizona doctor.

The release of the video Wednesday and the legislative vote on the same day give the appearance of an orchestrated anti-abortion crusade in the GOP-controlled state.

The bill is backed by the powerful conservative lobbying group, the Center for Arizona Policy, an arm of the Family Research Council. The center’s president, Cathi Herrod, has said the legislation is needed because, “neither doctors nor parents can play God.” Emailing supporters on Wednesday ahead of the legislative vote, Herrod cited Daleiden’s video as a rationale for the passage of SB 1367.

Stone and her family decided against medical intervention.

Stone lives in the Phoenix district of Rep. Kelli Butler (D), who read Stone’s testimony Wednesday on the House floor.

“On the morning of May 30th, Trevor was born. He was beautiful,” Butler read, pausing to collect herself.

“He weighed just under a pound, and was 11 1/2 inches long,” she continued. “He was breathing. The nurses gently wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to us. They left the room so we could be alone with our baby. My husband held him until he was gone. It was less than a minute. And we cried some more.”

As Dr. Peter Stevenson, an Arizona neonatologist, explained in earlier testimony, a fetus delivered a 20 or 21 weeks has no chance of survival. Those born at 22 weeks have a 7 percent to 11 percent chance of survival, and those at 23 weeks have a 20 percent to 40 percent chance to survive.

“It is standard of care in the state of Arizona as well as the entire United States to provide comfort measures only for fetuses delivered at prior to 22 weeks’ gestation,” Stevenson said.

The hospital dressed Trevor in an extra small layette, Stone said in her letter to lawmakers. He was baptized and cremated and his ashes were spread in the memory garden of a local funeral home. Stone said she found comfort in the final “few  peaceful minutes with our son.”

She worries that a law forcing doctors to perform resuscitation in cases like hers is “not only unethical, but also cruel.”

“Just because the technology exists, doesn’t mean it is the right course,” Stone said. “Sometimes the kindest, most compassionate choice is to let someone go.”

Stone urged lawmakers to oppose the legislation.

Ducey has signed every abortion restriction put on his desk. It’s very likely this bill will become law.

Stone worries about families who will face heart-breaking decisions like hers.

“I worry about the woman who might second guess asking for medical help if something in her pregnancy goes wrong,” Stone said. “I worry about the woman who fears going to the hospital will open her and her family up to a cascade of unwanted interventions. I worry about the woman who feels leaving the hospital will be her only option for a peaceful end to a heart- and soul-destroying situation.”

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