USA – ‘I feel powerful’: How Arizona Sen. Eva Burch sparked national conversation about abortion

Arizona Senator Eva Burch (above) wanted to make this speech while she was still pregnant. The Democratic senator wanted the public to see who she was: a mother of two, a wife, a nurse, a state lawmaker. A woman who chose an abortion and whose story didn’t fit into narratives crafted by opponents. Burch lambasted state laws on abortion during a 10-minute speech on the Senate floor in March, a moment that has garnered national attention at a time when abortion policy is in flux and access is a pre-eminent political issue. She decried as “cruel” Arizona laws that required her to get an ultrasound, and being told adoption was an option — for a pregnancy that her doctor confirmed was not viable.

Burch, 44, is an Arizona native serving her first two-year term in the Arizona state Senate and seeking re-election this year. She is an outspoken champion for reproductive rights who said advocating for vulnerable patient populations drove her interest in politics.

She has had a difficult time with pregnancy, including a previous miscarriage and one prior abortion after she had begun to miscarry. When she found out earlier this year that she was pregnant again, but the fetus was not viable, she made what has since been lauded by advocates as a brave and courageous decision. Arizona laws — written by Republicans throughout recent decades — controlled most of what happened after Burch’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. But she took control by talking about it.

Burch sought advice from Jodi Liggett, a leading advocate on women’s health issues in Arizona since the mid-1990s, about telling her story publicly. She wanted to be sure that doing so would have an impact, knowing there could be consequences, including public criticism and judgment, according to Liggett. Liggett credited Burch for reminding the nation, in a time of intense partisanship, that black-and-white positions often leave out a gray area. “I think every single person … willing to let us into their private situation, even though we don’t deserve to look through their personal experience and judge it as they know we will, they’re just amazing advocates and foot soldiers in this kind of war that we’re in for some basic justice,” Liggett said.

The response was immediate and national in scope. Thousands of people reached out, with most commending her or sharing their own stories, Burch said. She squeezed local and national media interviews in between her Senate voting schedule and work at the clinic.

There was a phone call from Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris, who has travelled around the country speaking in support of abortion rights and keeping the issue at the forefront of Democrats’ pitches to voters ahead of the November election. “I truly believe that in moments of crisis, and we are in the midst of a health care crisis, that these moments reveal the heroes among us, and you are one of them,” Harris told Burch, according to a video of the call Burch shared on social media.

Postscript: Even so, a 160-year-old Arizona abortion ban “was upheld on 9 April by the state’s highest court, put forward in 1864 by the American Medical Association, which would eventually become the largest doctors’ organization in the USA, whose members — all male and white at that time — sought to curtail medical activities like abortions by midwives and other non-doctors, most of whom were women”.

SOURCES: AZ Central, by Stacey Barchenger, Arizona Republic, 1 April 2024 ; New York Times, by Pam Belluck, 10 April 2024.