|State Health Director Will Humble: "It's not for me to decide what we're going to do regarding information about abortion procedures. My job is to carry out the laws that lawmakers in Arizona have passed.'|
PHOENIX -- State health officials are implementing parts of a controversial abortion law even as one section is being challenged in court.
The Department of Health Services this past week erected a web site designed to give those considering an abortion a list of things that can go wrong. The site, mandated by lawmakers and the governor earlier this year, also has an ever-developing list of services available to women who decide to keep their babies, from adoption services to diaper banks.
And it has medically accurate illustrations of what a fetus looks like at two-week intervals.
The mandate is part of the same measure which bans abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy. A federal appeals court has blocked the state from enforcing that provision while it considers its legality.
Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of the legislation, said it is designed to ensure that women truly give "informed consent' before agreeing to terminate a pregnancy. She said having it available on the World Wide Web ensures that women, on their own, can seek out the information they need.
But Yee, a staunch foe of all abortions, acknowledged she believes that the site will convince some women considering an abortion not to go through with it.
State Health Director Will Humble told Capitol Media Services the motives of Yee and the rest of the Legislature are irrelevant to what his agency has done.
"It's not for me to decide what we're going to do regarding information about abortion procedures,' he said. "My job is to carry out the laws that lawmakers in Arizona have passed.'
Humble said it's no different than being directed by voters, as the ultimate lawmakers, to set up a medical marijuana program . He said if lawmakers direct him to provide information on complications of abortions, that's what he has to do.
So the web site lists various things that can go wrong from the procedure, ranging from infection and hemorrhage to sterility and death.
But Humble stressed that does not mean listing everything that is only possible. And the fact that other states' web sites make certain claims does not obligate him to do the same.
For example, he said, a similar web site set up by the state of Texas links having an abortion to an increased risk of breast cancer.
"We looked for sources top document in fact whether there is evidence to support that,' Humble said. "We couldn't find that evidence.'
Sheila Sjolander, the agency's chief of the Bureau of Women's and Children's Health, said that medical studies found the claim "inconclusive.'
"So that's not on our web site,' Humble said.
Yee said she had not yet seen the web site her legislation mandated. But she said she is convinced that it will make a difference.
She said some of that belief comes from nurses who testified during hearings about the issue in the last two years.
"Young women who came to their clinics did not have information when they came, often times with their boyfriends,' she said. One big issue, Yee said, was the question of whether women were feeling coerced to terminate their pregnancy.
"It is against the law,' Yee said. "And we've had that on the books for many years.'
But she said there was no single place where a woman could learn that.
Then there are those medical drawings.
Here, too, existing law provided a woman with the right to view the ultrasound image of the fetus. And Yee said that some women -- and, in some cases, the fathers of the unborn child -- decided at that point against proceeding.
She said, though, that the medical drawings, which are in full color and much more detailed than any ultrasound, may give some prospective parents additional reasons to reconsider their initial decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Nothing in the law requires a woman to actually read any of the information or view the drawings.
But it does say anyone seeking an abortion must be given the opportunity to review all the information. And it says a woman also can get a printed version of the materials, free of charge, if she wants.
Humble said, though, that his agency is not just presenting one side of the story.
The web site says that pregnancy and birth "is usually a safe, natural process.' But it does warn that "complications can occur.'
Most common, according to the department, are high blood pressure, complicated delivery, premature labor and ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus is actually outside the womb.
But nothing on the site details the numeric risks of either abortion or carrying a child to term.
Humble also sought to avoid the minefield of claims, many of these anecdotal, about whether terminating a pregnancy leads to mental health problems.
"Women may have both positive and negative feelings after having an abortion,' the web site says, saying some report any feelings going away quickly while others say they are longer lasting.
"These feelings may include guilt, sadness, or emptiness,' the state's site says.
"Some women feel relief that the procedure is over,' it continues. "Other women may feel anger at having to make the choice.'
Whatever the feelings, the site says counseling or support is important both before and after a procedure.