Arizona lawmaker proposes 'homicide by abortion' bill; doctors and patients could be charged with murder

Maria Polletta
Arizona Republic

An Arizona lawmaker known for his hard-line stance on abortion has introduced legislation requiring prosecutors to charge women who opt to end their pregnancies — and the doctors who help them do it — with homicide. 

Rep. Walt Blackman, R-Snowflake, had vowed to run such a bill late last summer, calling abortion clinics "death factories" and saying women who terminated pregnancies needed to "spend some time in our Arizona penal system."

At the time, he shrugged off legal protections enshrined in federal law, arguing that Roe v. Wade is only an "opinion" and the U.S. Supreme Court should "honor (Arizona's) sovereignty."

House Bill 2650 reflects that view, saying county attorneys must pursue criminal prosecutions "regardless of any contrary or conflicting federal laws, regulations, treaties, court decisions or executive orders."

"If you want to spout, 'My body, my body choice,' you need to spend some time in our Arizona penal system," Blackman said in August. "If you are going to kill and end the life of another human being, that is murder."

The legislation, which expands the definition of a "person" to include "an unborn child in the womb at any stage of development," would allow both the state attorney general and county attorneys to prosecute "homicide by abortion."

It removes existing protections for "an unborn child's mother" as well as "the person … performing an abortion" with the mother's consent.

Measure caps off years of anti-abortion efforts in Arizona

Blackman's bill is one of several anti-abortion measures under consideration in legislatures across the country.

Earlier this week, Mississippi lawmakers introduced legislation seeking to charge those who have or perform abortions with murder, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

South Carolina legislators are backing a proposed abortion ban that would find providers guilty of murder including in cases of rape or incest, allowing exceptions only if a woman's life is at risk.

The Arizona bill appears to go even further, as it leaves open the possibility of first-degree murder charges — which can result in the death penalty or a lifetime sentence — and does not protect mothers from prosecution.

Blackman has argued that anything less would be insufficient, contending that Republican lawmakers have merely been "regulating murder" rather than taking a bold, unambiguous stance against it. 

"We've (said) it’s OK to murder at this stage, but it’s not OK to murder at this stage," he said, referencing the state's ban on abortions after 20 weeks. 

Arizona also has laws that: 

  • Mandate a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions. 
  • Require women to undergo ultrasounds at least 24 hours before the procedure.
  • Ban pill-induced abortions after seven weeks of pregnancy.
  • Prohibit telehealth providers from prescribing medication to induce abortions.
  • Require doctors to ask women if the pregnancies they want to terminate resulted from sexual assault, sex trafficking or domestic violence.
  • Make doctors and clinics report more specific information about any abortion-related medical complications.
  • Require doctors to take additional measures to "maintain the life" of any fetus delivered alive during an abortion, even if the fetus has no chance of survival.
  • Add restrictions to a charitable-giving program for state employees so they cannot donate to Planned Parenthood.

Though Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has consistently supported anti-abortion measures, he has long sidestepped questions about whether he would support a full reversal of Roe v. Wade.

He has made clear, however, that he supports abortion access when a women's life is in danger and when a pregnancy results from rape or incest. HB 2650 does not make exceptions for the latter.

Democrats: Bill 'unbelievable' and 'sickening'

Blackman's drew swift backlash from Democratic lawmakers following its introduction on Thursday, including a newly elected representative who said she had previously ended a pregnancy. 

"As someone who has had an abortion, it’s absolutely sickening knowing my colleagues want to sentence my doctor and I to death for choices they have NO BUSINESS dictating for me or anyone else," Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe, wrote in a Twitter post. 

State Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, called the legislation "unbelievable."

"Instead of helping our communities survive this pandemic," she said on Twitter. "Republicans just dropped a bill that would ban abortion AND put people in jail for exercising their constitutional right to reproductive healthcare."

Addressing the outcry late Thursday, Blackman published a post saying he was proud to sponsor the bill.

"Life starts at conception," he said. "It’s time to abolish abortion in Arizona."

Nine other representatives have signed on in support of the bill: Brenda Barton, R-Payson; Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City; Shawnna Bolick, R-Phoenix; Judy Burges, R-Skull Valley; Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West; David Cook, R-Globe; John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction; Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek; and Ben Toma, R-Peoria.

Anti-abortion activists planned to rally at the Arizona Capitol on Friday in support of the legislation and the larger "right to life" movement. 

Reach the reporter at or 602-653-6807. Follow her on Twitter @mpolletta.

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