PHOENIX, April 15 (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Tuesday signed into a law a bill allowing state health authorities to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics without first obtaining a warrant, handing another victory to abortion foes.
The Republican-backed bill, which gained final legislative approval from the state Senate last week, removes a provision from state law requiring a judge to sign off on any spot inspections conducted at the nine clinics in Arizona licensed to perform abortions.
No other medical facilities in the state require such a warrant for unannounced inspections.
"This legislation will ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients," gubernatorial spokesman Andrew Wilder said in announcing that Brewer, a Republican, had signed the measure.
Critics of the bill called it an unnecessary measure that had little to do with public safety. Instead, they cast the measure as open to abuse by officials with an anti-abortion agenda who might use increased latitude for inspections to interfere with clinic operations, effectively restraining legal access to abortion in Arizona.
Abortion-rights advocates have said they would challenge the measure in court if it became law, adding to a string of abortion controls on the books in Arizona that rank among the most restrictive in the nation.
Arizona now joins 10 other states that allow for warrantless surprise inspections of abortion clinics, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit sexual health organization. (Reporting by David Schwartz from Phoenix; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Eric Walsh)