/ Modified mar 1, 2023 4:43 p.m.

House passes domestic violence bill that criminalizes abuse to pregnant people

The bill has received opposition from the Arizona Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence.

360 capitol museum The Arizona State Legislature in Phoenix.
Steve Riggs/AZPM Staff

Assaulting someone who is pregnant could result in a longer prison sentence, under a bill that passed out of the Arizona House of Representatives. The bill is dividing lawmakers along familiar lines: the debate over abortion rights.

The proposal would let courts add up to five years to the prison sentence of a defendant, if they knew the victim was pregnant at the time of assault. The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Gress of Phoenix, who says that it is aimed at supporting women and families.

“This legislation will send a clear message to abusers that Arizona will not standby and allow two lives to be further threatened by unstable aggression by an intimate partner.”

Gress says he consulted with the Center for Arizona Policy, an organization that opposes abortion rights. The Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence has opposed the bill since its introduction. They say it "places greater value on unborn human life than domestic violence victims".

Democratic Rep. Analise Ortiz of Phoenix questioned Gress on his choice to speak with the Center for Arizona Policy and their interest in the bill. Gress did not answer the question, instead saying that the bill is meant to hold abusers accountable.

“We know that domestic violence, especially against women, either starts or worsens when the woman reveals she is pregnant,” Gress said.

The coalition says that funding that would go to maintain these extended prison sentences would be better used to help survivors. Marilyn Rodriguez, a spokesperson on behalf of the coalition, said during a previous House Judiciary meeting that the coalition does not believe in a hyper criminalization approach to deterring domestic violence as it can even deter victims from calling for help.

Republican Rep. Barbara Parker argued that current Arizona statutes already give both fetuses and pregnant people significance, meaning this proposed bill reinforces that. Parker specifically cited A.R.S. 13-1105 and 13-1104, which criminalizes the murder of unborn children.

The bill will now head to the Senate.

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