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County attorney seeks role in defense of abortion law challenge

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, a leader of the effort to defeat Proposition 121, said a primary system in California similar to that proposed for Arizona has resulted in fewer independent candidates on that state’s general election ballot. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Lindsey Smith)

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Lindsey Smith)

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery asked a federal court Monday to allow him to help defend a legal challenge to a two-year old law banning abortion on the basis of sex and race.

Montgomery also asked that Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, the sponsor of the legislation, and The Frederick Douglas Foundation, a group that advocates for African-American and pro-life issues, to be allowed to intervene as defendants.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix in May. It alleges the Legislature justified the law based on the high rate of abortions in the black community – meaning black women “de-select” members of their own race – and to prevent the alleged practice in Asian cultures of preventing female births because boys are more valued.

Montgomery said in the written motion that he should be involved in the case because Attorney General Tom Horne will be protecting a broader public interest that might be inconsistent with Montgomery’s Montenegro’s and the Douglas Foundation’s interests. Horne is the primary defendant in the case.

Montgomery noted that he is the public official who is the primary enforcer of the law. It calls for up to seven years in prison for a doctor who knowingly performs an abortion on the basis of the baby’s gender or race.

Montenegro is trying to protect his reputation and his “legislative interest” against what he considers to be misinformation put forth by the plaintiffs. The motion says the plaintiffs, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum have impugned his character by twisting his words in his advocacy of the law and alleging he sponsored the bill for racially insensitive motives.

The foundation wants to be involved because it strongly supported the bill.

Although Horne, who as a former lawmaker opposed abortion restrictions, has taken a back seat in previous lawsuits challenging Arizona abortion laws, he hasn’t decided how to proceed in this case, said Attorney General spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.

Montgomery said he has reviewed one case under the law, which was passed in 2011 as HB 2443, but declined to prosecute because he didn’t think there was a reasonable chance of getting a conviction.

The case involved undercover video by the pro-life group Live Action. Clinic workers at Camelback Family Planning in Phoenix were captured on video telling a pregnant woman not to tell the doctor she wanted the abortion because of the baby’s gender.

Montgomery said it is possible he could still prosecute the case if some factual issues are ironed out, but he declined to elaborate.

“I can’t give details on it because it would basically provide a blueprint on how to avoid a prosecution in this area,” he said.

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