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Brewer signs bill to ban race- and sex-selection abortions

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Brewer signs bill to ban race- and sex-selection abortions

  • Brewer
  • Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, shown in a file photo, argued that doctors in Arizona are performing abortions based on race and gender. Opponents of HB 2443 disputed that claim.
    Lauren Gilger/Cronkite News ServiceRep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, shown in a file photo, argued that doctors in Arizona are performing abortions based on race and gender. Opponents of HB 2443 disputed that claim.

Gov. Jan Brewer has signed into law a bill that makes Arizona the first state to ban abortions based on the race of a fetus and one of the few that have banned abortions based on gender.

Under HB 2443, authored by Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, doctors who perform such abortions would face felony charges carrying prison terms and could lose their medical licenses.

When the law takes effect about three months after the end of this legislative session, doctors will have to sign affidavits stating the reason for an abortion isn't the fetus' race or sex. The father, if married to the woman who gets an abortion, can sue a doctor he believes performed an abortion based on race or sex. If the woman isn't 18, her parents can sue.

With a few exceptions, Republicans and Democrats were divided on the legislation and on whether race- or sex-selection abortions are happening in Arizona. Supporters said the measure prevents discrimination, while dissenters called it degrading to women and based on myths.

Earlier in the session, Montenegro staunchly claimed that these abortions were happening in the state, pointing to abortion rates among minorities. He later suggested that the legislation would prevent sex-selection abortions, which are an issue in countries like India and China, from spreading to the state.

Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said she doesn't know why Arizona didn't act sooner to ban these abortions, adding that she hopes the law will prompt other states or Congress to follow suit.

"Women are at risk here. Unborn children are at risk for no fault of their own, for being a minority of a certain type, for being of a certain culture, for being male or female, and they deserve protection," she said.

Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said legislative supporters want to stigmatize women who choose abortion and cast fear among doctors, who he said are very aware they're under a microscope.

"This is breaking new ground in terms of forcing patients to state the very personal and intimate reasons around the decision they're making," he said.

Anjali Abraham, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, said Montenegro's bill is based on cultural stereotypes about women.

"You're assuming that these (minority) women are having abortions because they don't want to give birth to children of color, that they have some hostility toward their own unborn, when it could really be any number of reasons," she said.

The measure could make women fear seeing a doctor because they would have to answer too many questions, Abraham said. At the same time, she said, doctors might feel pressure to interrogate patients to make sure they aren't later accused of performing a race- or sex-selection abortion because the penalties are severe.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed another bill that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound at least one hour before an abortion, point out the fetus' extremities and offer the woman an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat and take a photo home.

HB 2416, authored by Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, passed on an 18-10 vote and was headed for Brewer's desk.

The bill would also change the definition of abortion to include abortion by pill and would bar doctors from using telemedicine to administer abortion by pill remotely.

While former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano repeatedly vetoed bills calling for limits on abortion, Brewer, a Republican, has now signed several into law since she took office in 2009.

Last year Brewer 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 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.

Illinois and Pennsylvania have decades-old laws prohibiting sex-selection abortions. Oklahoma in 2009 became the first state to enact a law restricting both sex- and race-selection abortions, but a state court struck down the measure on technicalities before it took effect.

About HB 2443

  • Sponsor: Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park
  • Status: Signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on Tuesday.
  • Official name: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011.
  • Provisions: Any person who knowingly performs, coerces, solitics or accepts money for an abortion based on the sex or race of a fetus is guilty of a Class 3 felony. Medical professionals who don't report such abortions are subject to civil fines up to $10,000.

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
  • Source: Arizona Department of Health Services

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