- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona House Republicans are closer to passing a bill that would allow for surprise inspections in Arizona abortion clinics.

Legislators gave initial approval to House Bill 2284 on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, eliminates a requirement that the Department of Health Services obtain an administrative warrant to conduct unscheduled inspections at the state’s nine licensed abortion clinics. Lesko says the bill aims to protect women from clinics that are not up to standards.

The Department of Health Services has received five complaints concerning abortion clinic safety in the last 3 years, a spokeswoman said. The department has sought and obtained an administrative search warrant for only one of those.

Democrats oppose the bill, saying it is unconstitutional and infringes on women’s privacy. The House debated the issue for several hours before giving initial approval. The bill is being pushed by the anti-abortion group Center for Arizona Policy.

“When it comes to women’s health and the choices they make with their body, it’s important that be protected in our state. This bill undermines some of those potential protections and women’s privacy,” said Rep. Eric Meyer, D-Paradise Valley. “A similar bill was already found to be unconstitutional.”

Democrats also said the bill, if passed, would be challenged in courts and would be costly to taxpayers.

“I would encourage your friends at Planned Parenthood not to sue,” Lesko said.

Lesko maintains that her bill actually protects women. She says abortion clinics are the only medical facilities in Arizona that state regulators need a warrant to inspect.

“I mean, for goodness’ sake, we even do unannounced inspections of Burger King and McDonald’s, but we’re not allowing them at abortion clinics?” she asked.

Opponents of the bill say abortion clinics have special protections in place because of past violent incidents involving protesters. They say abortion clinics go through the same inspection process as other providers but that inspections are scheduled.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said there was no evidence that abortion clinics in Arizona have safety issues.

“This is a bill in search of a problem. It is unnecessary. They are using scare tactics,” Steele said.

The House still has to cast a full vote on the bill before it goes to the Senate.