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GOP lawmaker: Ban abortions sought because of race or sex

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If a state lawmaker has his way, women seeking abortions in Arizona would be required to sign documents saying they're not terminating a pregnancy because of the fetus' race or sex.

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, is sponsoring two bills that would criminalize abortions if they're sought because of race or sex. Doctors knowingly performing abortions for those reasons would face Class 3 felony charges.

Michelle Steinberg, an Arizona policy manager for Planned Parenthood, said women should never have to make a case to get an abortion and called the bills demeaning and bizarre.

"This could be a slippery slope in terms of requiring women to disclose why they're choosing abortion," she said. "Women should never have to present a case to get an abortion."

Montenegro didn't respond to several requests for interviews left with his office and with a spokesman for House Republicans. However, he told Capitol Media Services that abortion clinics are targeting minority areas and that more females are aborted than males.

Steinberg said the fact that minority women seek more abortions stems from other problems.

"This idea that minority women are having abortions at higher rates than white women speaks more to rates of poverty, access to contraception and a lack of sex education," she said. "This is not racial genocide for God's sake; this is a real problem that we're not addressing."

HB 2443, which the House Health and Human Services Committee was to consider Wednesday, deals with race and sex selection. HB 2442 deals only with sex selection.

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The bills are co-sponsored by two Southern Arizona Republicans, Reps. David W. Stevens and David Gowan.

Both bills have a provision that allows the father, if married to the woman who gets an abortion, to sue the doctor on behalf of the unborn child. If the mother isn't 18, the maternal grandparents can sue.

In 2009, the latest year for which statistics are available, 10,045 abortions were reported to the Arizona Department of Health Services. That was a 3.4 percent decrease from the previous year.

Black women sought abortions at the highest rate, 168.1 per 1,000 live births. White women were next in line with 119.6 per 1,000 live births. Other minorities trailed, with Asians and Pacific Islanders at 114.8, Hispanics and Latinos at 86.1 and American Indian or Alaska Natives at 48.6.

Ninety-two percent of the abortions occurred before 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to the data. Women can't typically learn the sex of a fetus through ultrasound until at least the 17th week.

Jamey Ruiz, a medical assistant at the Central Phoenix Women's Health Center, said her practice does ultrasounds to determine gender at 19 weeks, when anatomy becomes more visible. The earliest is 17 weeks, she said.

The sex of a fetus can also be determined by taking a sample of the amniotic fluid, an amniocentesis, a method that's usually only used if there is a complication in pregnancy, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

The procedure is typically performed between 14 and 20 weeks, though some medical facilities may perform it as early as 11 weeks, according to the association.

Sex selection, sometimes connected to the idea of parents creating "designer babies" through in vitro fertilization, has become common in other countries, particularly Asian nations where male children are often valued over females.

In a 2008 study that examined statistics from the 2000 U.S. Census, researchers at Columbia University found indications of prenatal sex selection in favor of males to children born of Chinese, Korean and Indian parents in the U.S.

The study, "Son-biased sex rations in the 2000 United States Census," reported that if a couple's first child is a girl, the second was more likely to be a boy. If the first two were girls, the results were significantly skewed to be a boy in the third pregnancy.

White children showed only a slight variance, the study found.

Ben Hurlbut, an Arizona State University bioethics professor who studies the history of embryo research and legislation in the U.S., said even extreme abortion rights advocates can't argue that sex selection isn't something to worry about in this country.

But legislation is tricky, he said, because the government doesn't take a moral position on abortion but does when funding human embryo research.

"It's impossible to separate them because the embryos used in the research come from a practice (abortion) the government tries to stay out of," he said. "This stuff is not easy to regulate and making a law doesn't mean the problem goes away."

U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican representing Arizona's second district, in 2009 sponsored similar legislation: the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act. The bill, which never made it out of committee, would have criminalized abortion because of the "sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent."

Illinois and Pennsylvania have laws prohibiting sex-selection abortions. Several other states, including Georgia, Mississippi, New Jersey, Idaho and Oklahoma have tried to enact legislation that would prevent sex- or race-selection abortions.

Oklahoma in 2009 went the furthest when it became the first state to enact a law restricting both sex- and race-selection abortions, but a state court struck down the measure on procedural technicalities before it went into effect.

After former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, for years vetoed bills that would have placed more restrictions on abortions, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer last year signed into law a Montenegro-sponsored bill that expands the amount of information hospitals and clinics must report about women who have abortions.

She also signed into law a bill creating a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions and one requiring doctors who perform abortions to give information about risks and offer alternatives.

Roy Spece, a lawyer and professor at the University of Arizona's law and medical schools who co-authored a book on cases of bioethics and the law, said Montenegro's bills could move Arizona backward.

"We could return to the era when you have hospital committees who would decide why each specific woman's reason for having an abortion is sufficient," he said.

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Abortions by year in Arizona

  • 2005: 10,723
  • 2006: 10,836
  • 2007: 10,721
  • 2008: 10,660
  • 2009: 10,271

Abortions by race/ethnicity in 2009

  • White non-Hispanic: 4,759
  • Hispanic or Latino: 3,303
  • Black or African-American: 736
  • American Indian: 300
  • Asian or Pacific Islander: 390
  • Unknown: 557

Abortions by age in 2009

  • 19 and younger: 1,519
  • 20 to 29: 5,753
  • 30 and older: 2,532
  • Not stated: 241

Source: Arizona Department of Health Services

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