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Arizona has moved one step closer to what critics say is a sneaky attempt to add fetal personhood into state law in a way that would avoid a federal court ruling that blocked a straightforward personhood law passed two years ago.
Republican Rep. Matt Gress, of Phoenix, has introduced five pregnancy-related bills this year that some Democrats say are efforts to surreptitiously add fetal personhood into Arizona law, which could then endanger the rights of all pregnant people.
Gress says his bills have nothing to do with abortion and are only aimed at protecting mothers and children, though he has acknowledged working with the Center for Arizona Policy — an evangelical Christian organization that aims to eliminate abortion — to craft some of the legislation.
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In August, Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate introduced bills similar to Gress’, at the urging of anti-abortion groups. Sponsors of those proposals have said their goal is to sharply curtail abortion rights.
Three of Gress’s bills are still moving forward and have the potential to be approved by the legislature, although they will likely be vetoed by Gov. Katie Hobbs, a pro-choice Democrat.
The House voted 31-28 along party lines on Feb. 28 to approve Gress’s House Bill 2427, which would lower the barrier to file aggravated assault charges against someone who knowingly attacks a pregnant person, and increase the sentencing for a person who hurts a pregnant victim during a domestic assault. It will next move to the full Senate for consideration.
During debate, Gress dodged a question from Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz, of Phoenix, asking why he received input on the bill from the Center for Arizona Policy, but not from the Arizona Coalition To End Sexual And Domestic Violence, which took an official stance against the bill.
Gress instead said that domestic violence often starts or worsens when a woman reveals that she is pregnant.
“This bill is designed to hold abusers accountable,” he said, adding that pregnant women who suffer abuse are at greater risk of complications and poor health for herself and her baby.
“This sends the message that Arizona will not stand by and allow two lives to be threatened,” he said.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, told her fellow representatives that she believes there are already sufficient criminal penalties in place in Arizona to ensure that perpetrators of domestic violence with pregnant victims face appropriate consequences.
Ortiz agreed and asked her colleagues to vote against the bill, urging them to consider the potential broader implications.
“I’m concerned about ingraining into law something that gives fetuses more rights than the pregnant person,” Ortiz said.
Republican Rep. Alexander Kolodin said he voted for the bill because, “I do not believe in beating pregnant women.”
Gress’ other bills that still have a chance for approval are House Bill 2502, which would allow a parent who has been awarded child support to receive retroactive payments, back to the date of a positive pregnancy test and House Bill 2501, which would provide a child tax credit to a woman or her spouse during the year before her child is born.
Gress’s House Bill 2417, which would have allowed pregnant women to drive in the HOV lane, essentially counting the woman as two people, was never assigned to a legislative committee and is dead. His House Bill 2500, which failed in committee, would have provided compensation to a woman who was impregnated during a sexual assault and then carried the pregnancy to term.
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