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Abortion bill sponsor unfazed by doubts cast on his evidence

In a Feb. 21 House floor session, Rep. Steve Montenegro waves a copy of The Economist, whose cover story was about gender-selection abortions. The story’s author said he had no evidence such abortions where common in the U.S. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

In a Feb. 21 House floor session, Rep. Steve Montenegro waves a copy of The Economist, whose cover story was about gender-selection abortions. The story’s author said he had no evidence such abortions where common in the U.S. (Photo by Ryan Cook/RJ Cook Photography)

As he implored his colleagues to vote for a bill restricting abortions, Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, waved a copy of The Economist magazine, whose cover was splashed with the frightening headline “Gendercide.”

At the House floor session on Feb. 21, Montenegro asserted the magazine story offered proof that Arizona needed to outlaw abortions performed to prevent the births of female and minority babies.

“This is not hearsay,” Montenegro said, brandishing the magazine. “This is happening.”

He won. The House voted 41-18 to pass HB2443, which now goes to the Senate.

But his success came on the basis of spotty evidence: The magazine story Montenegro waved like a battle flag mentions nothing about abortions performed to prevent births of minority children.

And although the story was about aborting female fetuses, it includes, by the author’s admission, no specifics, and only a statistical conclusion, about sex-selection abortions in the United States. Journalist John Parker said that his intention was not to expose “Gendercide” in the United States, because the practice is extremely rare.

“I don’t know of any evidence to say that it’s common” in the United States, Parker said in a telephone interview. “My intention was to take more of a worldwide perspective and show that it was happening in countries besides China.”

The article does refer to an April 2008 study published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.” The study’s authors conclude that among families from Asia, some sex selection is going on in the United States, although the authors had no proof, only statistics that suggest such abortions have taken place. (See “Study interprets stats to mean some gender-selection takes place,” Page 19.)

HB2443 would prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion based solely on the sex or race of the fetus. It also would prohibit a clinic that offers abortion services from accepting donations specifically to be used to finance an abortion based on the race or sex of the fetus. Violators would be fined up to $10,000.

Whatever the basis for The Economist article, Montenegro’s presentation swayed Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber. Though he later acknowledged he hadn’t read any articles on such abortions himself, on the floor Crandell said he believed that “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” and if Montenegro had so many reports claiming such practices were occurring, they must be going on.

But no one mentioned any specific news stories other than the one in The Economist. And the 2008 study appears to be the sole piece of evidence that suggests there is any sex selection going on in the United States.

Asked to provide other reports or news stories on the topic, Montenegro supplied two press releases in support of bills banning sex-selection and race-selection abortions. In one, a clergy member affiliated with an organization called Priests for Life asserts that such abortions are taking place in the United States. But the release offers no proof.

The other press release cites as proof the article in

The Economist.

A spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, a widely quoted source for data related to abortion, said that when the institute studied the reasons women often sought abortions, the race or sex of the fetus was not reported as a factor.

“We don’t have any data or research to suggest that women seeking abortions do so as a result of the gender or race of the fetus,” spokeswoman Rebecca Wind said.

Neither do local sources. The Arizona Medical Association and the Arizona Department of Health Services said they do not have data that suggest any sort of sex- or race-selection abortions are taking place.

Neither did Arizona Right to Life, where office manager Charles Ryan said to ask Planned Parenthood “because they’re the ones performing them.”

Michelle Steinberg, public policy director at Arizona Planned Parenthood, said the policy is not to ask the woman why she is obtaining an abortion. She added she had never heard of a woman having an abortion because of the sex or race of the fetus.

“It’s hard to find,” Steinberg said, “because there is none.”

But Montenegro insists that if it’s occurring at all, it needs to be stopped.

“Even one baby aborted because it’s the wrong sex, because it’s a girl, is too many,” he said, dramatically holding up one finger.

Any data suggesting race selection are similarly spotty. Montenegro and other proponents of the bill argue that an overwhelming majority of abortion clinics are in neighborhoods with a majority African-American population, and that minority women are more likely to have abortions than white women.

The bill’s proponents said that means some clinics or doctors are targeting minorities.

But the data are inconclusive, and at least one of the statements made by proponents was incorrect. For instance, Montenegro claimed, in committee and on the floor, that the vast majority of abortion clinics are in areas with a predominantly minority population. The Guttmacher Institute released a report in January, based on 2008 census data, that concluded that 63 percent of abortion providers “were located in neighborhoods where one-half or more of the residents were non-Hispanic white.”

Twelve percent of clinics were in areas in which more than half of the residents were Hispanic, and 9 percent were in areas in which more than half of the residents were African-American.

On the House floor, Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, pointed to the 63 percent statistic. “The claim that there is some targeting issue here is absolutely incorrect,” he said.

The claim by Montenegro and in a letter from Congressman Trent Franks, R-Ariz., read by Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, that more abortions are performed on women of color than on white women are similarly inconsistent with Arizona DHS data. Of the 10,045 procedures performed in 2009, only 736, or 7 percent, were performed on black women, whereas 4,759, or 47 percent, were performed on white non-Hispanic women.

About one-third of all abortions were performed on Hispanic women. However, the rate is not out of line with Arizona’s demographics. According to 2009 census data, 31 percent of residents were identified as being of Hispanic or Latino origin, compared with 57.3 percent for white non-Hispanics.

The DHS data do show that in 2009, the ratio of abortions to live births among black was 29 percent higher than among white women.

But the reason behind the statistic has not been established, though some opponents of Planned Parenthood argue it indicates that clinics and practitioners are preying on women of color. A 2008 Guttmacher Institute analysis suggests that because more women of color live in poverty, and as such do not have access to more effective forms of birth control, they have more unintended pregnancies.

Montenegro’s bill also would target clinics that accept donations when the donor specifically instructs that the money be used as population control, for instance, to pay for abortions of only black fetuses in order to reduce the black population.

Montenegro argued that Planned Parenthood has been caught accepting such donations. When asked for evidence, he had his assistant send a link to a 2008 investigation done by The Advocate, a magazine of the anti-abortion group Live Action.

James O’Keefe, then the magazine’s adviser but who later became known for a hoax against the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), called clinics and asked if he could give a donation specifically to be used for a minority woman.

In his calls, he would specify that the reason was for population control. One time, he said he had just had a child and wanted to make sure the child didn’t face any difficulty getting into college because of affirmative action. In another call, he said he thought there were “way too many black people in Ohio, so I’m just trying to do my part.” The Planned Parenthood representative responded, “OK, whatever… for whatever reason, we’ll accept the money.”

No money was actually given to Planned Parenthood during the investigation, according to Live Action.

The Arizona chapter of Planned Parenthood enacted a policy in April 2008 to prohibit such donations. It reads: “Gifts or grants to Planned Parenthood shall not be accepted if the donor indicates an intent that such gift or grant is to be used in a manner, or for a program, that discriminates on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other basis protected by PPFA’s/PPAZ’s mission and policy statements or by local, state, or federal law.”

But Montenegro was not swayed by the policy.

“Then why are they opposed to the bill?” he said. “What are they afraid of?”

Her concern, said Steinberg of Planned Parenthood, is the potential of the bill to affect all women hoping to terminate a pregnancy.

“It’s just another way to vilify women who get an abortion,” she said.

One comment

  1. Mr Montenegro, Everybody is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts. Do you get that message? If you didn’t, try this one–Science is true whether you believe it or not!

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