Arizona Governor Signs Bill Authorizing Warrantless Surprise Inspections of Abortion Clinics

Under the new law, officials will be allowed to inspect any clinic during business hours, even if there is no reasonable cause to believe the clinic is violating regulations.

Arizona Gov Jan Brewer signed HB 2284 into law Tuesday. Signature via Shutterstock

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed a bill into law Tuesday that would allow state Department of Health Services officials to conduct warrantless surprise inspections on any of the nine clinics that provide abortion services in the state. Under the new law, officials will be allowed to inspect any clinic during business hours, even if there is no reasonable cause to believe the clinic is violating regulations. 

HB 2284, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Peoria), repeals a section of Arizona law that requires a judge to approve any spot inspections of abortion clinics. The law did not apply to inspections of any other medical facilities. According to the Guttmacher Institute, Arizona joins ten other states that allow the warrantless surprise inspection of abortion clinics.

In the state house, the bill was approved with a 34-22 vote. The senate approved the legislation on a 17-13 vote along party lines, with supporters citing everything from protecting women’s health to religious opposition to abortion. The legislation could go into effect as early as next week. 

The legislation was backed by the conservative think tank the Center for Arizona Policy (CAP), which “promotes and defends the foundational values of life, marriage and family, and religious liberty.” Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, told The Arizona Republic that the Center for Arizona Policy has a history of promoting unconstitutional legislation that costs Arizona taxpayers money for the state to defend. “These are laws that were one after another an effort by CAP to impose their own religious and moral views on the women of Arizona,” said Soler.

A 1999 law passed in Arizona also approved the warrantless inspections of abortion clinics in the state, but this law was struck down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. The judges ruled that the statute’s authorization of “warrantless, unbounded inspections of their offices” violated constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

If challenged, this would be among a series of cases in which anti-choice bills passed by the Arizona legislature have been challenged in the courts. Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit blocked regulations on medication abortion, and another lawsuit has also been filed challenging those regulations. The Supreme Court refused to hear Arizona’s ban on abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, which lower courts struck down previously.

In a statement, the governor’s spokesperson, Andrew Wilder, said that the legislation will “ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients.”

Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement that while Planned Parenthood supports laws that protect patient safety, this law “does nothing but open the door to provider and patient harassment. This is yet another law that is in search of a problem rather than a positive solution.”