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Posted Feb 22, 2011, 6:39 am
Following an hour of heated debate, the state House gave preliminary approval Monday to a bill that would ban abortions sought because of the fetus' race or sex.
The measure, authored by Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, would require doctors performing abortions to sign affidavits stating that the reason for the abortion isn't the fetus' race or sex. It would allow the father, if married to the woman who gets an abortion, to sue the doctor if he believes the doctor knowingly performed it based on the race or sex. If the mother isn't 18, the maternal grandparents would be able to sue.
Montenegro called race- and sex-selection abortions a violation of human rights, saying these abortions are often grisly, late-term surgeries. Democrats questioned whether such abortions are happening in the state, while Republicans said the measure would help end discrimination against unborn children.
"I introduced this bill to take a stand against bigotry and prejudice," Montenegro said.
HB 2443 passed 41-18 in the Committee of the Whole, with Democrats Catherine Miranda of Phoenix, Albert Hale of Window Rock and Macario Saldate of Tucson supporting and Republicans Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix and Russ Jones of Yuma opposing.
The Republicans didn't explain their votes. Hale called the decision difficult and said as a Native American his people have been decimated by whites and then largely ignored in American history, so he can't support abortions based on race or sex. Miranda said she has an unwavering "pro-life" opinion, which includes an obligation to all human beings to alleviate suffering despite race or sex.
Lawmakers approved an amendment offered by Montenegro that removed a requirement that women sign affidavits as well.
The approval sets up a floor vote that would send the bill to the Senate.
Montenegro has said minorities being aborted at a higher rate than whites is evidence of race-selection abortions in Arizona and that national U.S. studies show that parents prefer male babies to female.
"Do you believe that a woman is equal to a man? That a black person is as valuable as a white person?," he said during Monday's debate. "Some people don't believe that and those people don't deserve your protection and my protection."
Dissenters said there's no evidence that race- or sex-selection abortions are happening in Arizona and that higher abortion rates among minorities reflect a lack of sex education and access to contraceptives and health care.
A review of the latest Arizona Department of Health Services statistics, from 2009, showed that black women sought abortions at the highest rate, 168.1 per 1,000 live births, followed by white women at 119.6. The rate for Hispanics and Latinos was 86.1.
Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, a hospital doctor, said Arizona data that Montenegro has touted is incomplete and doesn't show that these abortions are occurring.
"Greater than 90 percent of abortions in the state of Arizona actually occur prior to 12 weeks, which means that the gender is impossible to determine," he said. "It's not even clear to me how providers can be accused of doing this when there's no example of this even happening in the state."
Arizona Department of Health Services statistics from 2009 show that 92 percent of abortions are performed before 13 weeks gestation, when a woman typically doesn't yet know the sex of the fetus. There is no data that tracks the sex of the aborted fetus.
Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, said all legislators should support any measure that protects the unborn.
"Once we start selecting and we start deciding who we want to be born and who we don't want to be born, this civilization in the United States as we know it today will no longer exist."
Meanwhile, the House Committee of the Whole delayed consideration of a second abortion bill, HB 2416, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, which, among other provisions, would place new restrictions on facilities that perform abortions by pill and bar doctors from using telemedicine to administer abortion by pill remotely.