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An Arizona lawmaker shares her own emotional abortion story on the senate floor

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, public testimonies about the impact of restrictive abortion laws have become more common at rallies, in workplaces and even in state capitols. Still, one Arizona lawmaker's announcement last week stands out. From member station KJZZ in Phoenix, Wayne Schutsky reports on a personal moment turned political on the floor of the Arizona Senate.

WAYNE SCHUTSKY, BYLINE: For the first 25 minutes, the Arizona Senate's floor session on March 18 was unremarkable. Then the floor opened for final comments, and State Senator Eva Burch stood up.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVA BURCH: Thank you, Mr. President Pro Tem, I rise for a point of personal privilege for comments.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Please.

SCHUTSKY: As Democratic lawmakers gathered in support behind Burch, she told lawmakers she was pregnant, the fetus was not viable and she planned to get an abortion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURCH: I don't think people should have to justify their abortions, but I'm choosing to talk about why I made this decision because I want us to be able to have meaningful conversations about the reality of how the work that we do in this body impacts people in the real world.

SCHUTSKY: To be clear, there is no abortion legislation currently in front of the legislature, but the Arizona Supreme Court is considering a case that could reinstate a Civil-War-era total ban. Right now, a 15-week abortion ban passed in 2022 is the law. Reflecting on the process, Burch said the law subjected her to an unnecessary ultrasound and forced her to sit through counsel designed to change the minds of patients with viable pregnancies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURCH: I was told that I could choose adoption. I was told that I could choose parenting - which were two things that I couldn't choose, and it was cruel to suggest that that was an option for me when it's not.

SCHUTSKY: Dr. Jill Gibson, the chief medical officer with Planned Parenthood Arizona, says those talking points are part of a script providers are required to recite under Arizona law. She hopes Burch's openness will dispel misconceptions about who is seeking abortion care.

JILL GIBSON: I do absolutely agree that people have a misconception and judgments about people who have abortions. But the reality is, is that 1 in 4 people with reproductive potential will have an abortion during their lifetime.

SCHUTSKY: Burch directed her comments to Republican lawmakers, some of whom passed the 15-week ban in 2022.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BURCH: And do I have high expectations to change people's minds who are very passionately against abortion? No. But I think a lot of people are interested in having a larger conversation.

SCHUTSKY: Burch's testimony had an effect on at least one Republican lawmaker.

KEN BENNETT: I thought it was very compelling.

SCHUTSKY: Senator Ken Bennett lists, quote, "protect unborn life" on his campaign website as a priority, but says...

BENNETT: Her story points out that there are aspects of those statutes that get in the way of reasonable care for some people.

SCHUTSKY: Bennett was quick to say Burch didn't convince him that abortion should be legal in all circumstances, but he says there is a conversation to be had about where lawmakers should draw the line.

BENNETT: Somewhere between heartbeat and viability, there needs to be some flexibility for people to make decisions on their care.

SCHUTSKY: Burch says lawmakers shouldn't be involved in that decision at all. She says voters should be the one to decide the issue.

PAUL WIECH: Yes, good.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yes.

WIECH: This is to help get the constitutional amendment onto the ballot in November - to put a fundamental right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution.

SCHUTSKY: Outside a bookstore in Tempe, Paul Wiech spent an afternoon collecting signatures to put abortion access in Arizona before voters like Norma Millan. Millan says she was glad that Burch spoke up, but...

NORMA MILLAN: I would have signed it anyway. We shouldn't go backwards. We should go forward.

SCHUTSKY: Abortion advocates have about three more months to collect the nearly 400,000 signatures they need to give supporters the chance to voice that opinion at the polls.

For NPR News, I'm Wayne Schutsky in Phoenix.

(SOUNDBITE OF RUBEN AYALA'S "ADDICTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Wayne Schutsky
[Copyright 2024 KJZZ]
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