After lengthy debate, House committee passes abortion bill ‘we can all agree on’

Caitlin Coakley Beckner//February 9, 2011

After lengthy debate, House committee passes abortion bill ‘we can all agree on’

Caitlin Coakley Beckner//February 9, 2011

Rep. Steve Montenegro (left) and Rep. Matt Heinz (right)
Rep. Steve Montenegro (left) and Rep. Matt Heinz (right) led the arguments Wednesday over a bill that would make it a felony to perform an abortion based solely on the sex or race of a fetus. (File photos)

Despite Rep. Steve Montenegro’s calling his HB2635 “something we can all agree on,” the bill, which would outlaw abortions based solely on the sex or race of the fetuses, sparked nearly an hour of debate Wednesday in the House Health and Human Services Committee.

Montenegro, R-Avondale, and proponents of the bill said it aims to stop the practice of gender or racial discrimination against the unborn. Opponents, such as Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, argued that the data presented did not prove that the discriminatory abortions were actually occurring at a significant rate.

The committee passed the bill 5-3, with Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, absent. The five voting for the bill were Republicans, and Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, joined two Democrats in voting against it.

According to the bill, a doctor or other practitioner could face a fine for trying to intimidate a woman into having an abortion due to the sex or race of the fetus, performs an abortion knowing that the mother sought it due to the race or sex of the fetus, or accepts money to finance sex- or race-selection abortions.

The version Montenegro originally proposed would have made such practices Class 3 felonies, for which the maximum sentence is seven years for a first-time offender; an amendment by Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, changed the penalty to a civil fine of up to $10,000.

To prevent the charges or fines, the bill includes a provision that before a doctor performs an abortion, he and the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated must sign an affidavit stating that the fetus’s race or sex is not the reason for the abortion.

Though opponents argued that the bill was unenforceable because it hinges on the ability to prove a person’s intent, Montenegro said the presence of the affidavit, or the lack thereof, can provide enough evidence.

“If they don’t sign an affidavit,” Montenegro said, “why not?”

Montenegro designed the bill to deflect the penalty from the mother, he said, because women seeking abortions often go through a great deal of emotional turmoil.

Montenegro offered statistics from various sources, including Planned Parenthood and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, demonstrating that abortions were being performed disproportionately among minority populations. He added that some clinics have been exposed as receiving financial contributions from sources that stipulate the money be used to slow the growth of minority populations.

“I know abortion is a topic that there’s a large amount of controversy about,” he said, “But I think it is never OK to discriminate against the unborn in the form of selective abortions based on the race or the sex.”

But Heinz questioned that data, arguing that numbers demonstrating higher rates of abortions performed in minority populations did not necessarily show there was any sort of discrimination.

“These are also communities that disproportionately lack access to comprehensive sex education, among other resources,” Heinz said, suggesting that a better alternative may be to consider restoring money to such public programs as DHS.

Heinz also questioned the lack of data to demonstrate that abortions based on sex selection were happening in Arizona. Montenegro and other proponents presented studies, including an article from The Economist magazine, that suggested the practice was common worldwide, but did not have state-specific information.

Brophy McGee said that she voted against the bill because she disagreed with the idea of punishing the doctor for the mother’s decision.