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An Arizona senator aborted her non-viable pregnancy. She wants everyone to have that choice

Arizona state Sen. Eva Burch, D-Phoenix, stands outside of her Capitol office Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Phoenix. The lawmaker says she plans to have an abortion after learning that her pregnancy is not viable, making the announcement on the state Senate floor Monday, according to the Arizona Republic. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
Arizona state Sen. Eva Burch, D-Phoenix, stands outside of her Capitol office Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Phoenix. The lawmaker says she plans to have an abortion after learning that her pregnancy is not viable, making the announcement on the state Senate floor Monday, according to the Arizona Republic. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

Arizona state Sen. Eva Burch had an abortion after finding out her pregnancy wasn’t viable – a decision she shared days prior on the state Senate floor.

Arizona law allows abortions before 15 weeks. However, the state’s Supreme Court is considering an 1864 law that would criminalize nearly all abortions. At least 14 states now ban most abortions at any stage, which is among the reasons the mother of two and nurse practitioner shared her personal story.

“A few weeks ago, I learned against all odds I am pregnant,” Burch said on March 18. “I wish I could tell you otherwise, but after numerous ultrasounds and blood draws, we have determined that my pregnancy is not progressing, is not viable, and once again I have scheduled an appointment to terminate my pregnancy.”

To get an abortion under Arizona state law, patients must attend a counseling session and then wait 24 hours before the procedure. Providers are required to recommend adoption or parenting as alternatives to abortion — which Burch says are not feasible options in cases like hers involving a non-viable pregnancy.

Providers must also talk about the probable state of development of fetal organs and body parts at the time of the abortion, which again were not accurate for Burch’s pregnancy, she says.

“My embryo was dying and therefore not subject to the probabilities of a normal, healthy, progressing pregnancy,” she tells Here & Now. “These laws are intended really to coerce and frighten and bully patients, but it has an effect that could be totally different from that based on the situation of the individual patient.”

Burch also had to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound to get the abortion despite providing reports from two prior ultrasounds showing the pregnancy was non-viable.

“I don’t think that the intent is anything other than to make the experience uncomfortable for the patient and to create a hostile environment in the abortion center,” she says.

5 questions with Arizona state Sen. Eva Burch

In 2022, you were told you couldn’t have an abortion — which was medically needed because your pregnancy had failed — because your life wasn’t in danger. Can you describe that process?

“The day before I was supposed to have my abortion two years ago, I started to miscarry and there’s a certain threshold of ‘how much is somebody bleeding’ that’s safe. And I had passed that threshold and felt a little bit uncomfortable, a little bit scared, to be honest. And so we went to the emergency department, but my miscarriage stalled and I stopped bleeding completely.

“We did an ultrasound and the embryo was still there. So, I was hopeful that I would be able to have a procedure because there was no longer any cardiac activity. It looked as though the embryo had died, but they told me that I was not going to be able to have a procedure there that day and that I should probably keep my appointment at the abortion clinic the next day or that they could give me some medication that would make me start bleeding again. And if I bled enough, then they could give me a procedure.

“It’s really putting patients in sort of an impossible situation, and I went home and I was like ‘I’m hoping that nothing bad would happen between the time I left the ER and the time I got to the abortion clinic.’ But this was now a more serious complication where I had retained products of conception, and the laws that we set can serve to intimidate doctors and to muddy the waters when they’re trying to make decisions in the hospital setting as well. So it really is setting a bad precedent across the board.”

Since the overturn of Roe v. Wade in 2022, many conservative women who were against abortion rights have found themselves in medical situations where they needed the procedure and couldn’t get it in their state. Are you watching this happen?

“I’m absolutely watching it happen. It is one of the primary reasons that I decided to go public with my story because we have to change the conversation about the abortion patient.

“I think that when patients are not sharing their experiences, it allows the wrong people to write the story and to tell us who we are. It’s absolutely awful. I think that these individuals are having to share their most private and frightening stories publicly just in order to be heard and to have a seat at the table in the conversation. But if those stories aren’t being heard, it’s not an honest or accurate representation of what abortion care looks like in this country.”

In Arizona, the Supreme Court is considering the 1864 law that would criminalize almost all abortions. You and others are promoting a ballot measure in November for voters to decide on a constitutional amendment that would make the right to an abortion up until 24 weeks a constitutional right. Is that also part of why you got up?

“It’s really difficult for me to even comprehend why we’re having a conversation about a ban that was put in place before Arizona was even a state and that we would be considering that when we have so much data and so much has changed in the field of medicine and just in general, that we should not be litigating this ridiculous, outdated ban on abortion.

“We should be having a more serious conversation. I do think that that conversation directly relates to this ballot initiative. We can really see that people are ready for this. So they’re going to far exceed what they need in order to get this on the ballot. I’m confident of that. And I do think that it’s going to be a driving factor in getting people to come to the polls in November. And I am confident that it’s going to move the needle for us here in Arizona.”

KJZZ reports state Sen. Ken Bennett, a Republican who lists ‘protect unborn life’ on his campaign website, said your story has made him think. What have you heard since sharing your story? 

“I was really grateful. Sen. Bennett actually came up to me after I was done speaking and just sort of expressed his condolences to me. I don’t know that that’s going to be the sentiment across the Republican caucus. But what I also think is that the landscape is changing in Arizona and what we have right now are some very far-right extremists who are in leadership positions, but that’s not an accurate representation of the entire Republican caucus in Arizona. And I do not think at all that it’s an accurate representation of all of the Republican voters.”

Are you getting support? How are you feeling?

“The response that I have had has knocked my socks off. It has been phenomenal. I have had letters and messages and people telling me their own stories, but mostly thanking me, mostly saying that they are so grateful to see the conversation moving on this.

“I’ve had so many people sharing their personal stories with me. People who would not at all feel comfortable ever sharing their story publicly are just grateful to have a seat at the table. Now they heard that story and they saw themselves. And it also makes me motivated. It makes me want to do more because we have so much good work that we can do. And I really do believe that we now have more people who are going to be ready and willing to do that work.”

Karyn Miller-Medzon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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