House OKs outlawing of race- and gender-selection abortions

Caitlin Coakley Beckner//February 21, 2011

House OKs outlawing of race- and gender-selection abortions

Caitlin Coakley Beckner//February 21, 2011

After an hour of heated debate, the House of Representatives Tuesday passed a bill that would prohibit an abortion performed because of the race or gender of the unborn child.

HB2443 now goes to the Senate.

Arguing on the floor, Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Avondale, the bill’s sponsor, was adamant that the bill had less to do with a woman’s legal right to have an abortion and, instead, was a measure to prohibit bigotry and discrimination.

Montenegro insisted that some abortions are performed because a mother does not want a daughter or a minority baby.

“The issue that I’m seeking here to address is an issue of equal protection,” Montenegro said in his closing comments about the bill. “I introduce this bill to put an end to offensive and abhorrent practices which have no place in an egalitarian, multi-cultural society.”

But Democrats questioned whether there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate that race selection and sex selection abortions were occurring frequently enough to justify such a measure.

Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, who verbally sparred with Montenegro when the bill was first discussed in the Health and Human Services Committee, called it a bill “in search of a problem” because the sponsor had not presented enough information to demonstrate that the practice was common in the United States.

Under the bill, a doctor or other practitioner could be fined for performing an abortion if he or she knew it was being sought solely due to the sex or race of the fetus. Organizations that offer abortions would also be fined if they accept donations specifically to finance sex- or race-selection abortions.

Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert read a letter from U.S. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., congratulating Arizona on its progress with the bill. Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, read a letter from the National Black Pro-Life Union, also in support of the bill.

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, pointed out what she perceived as hypocrisy on the part of Democrats who attacked the bill: “I sit back and watch debates across the board. I see my esteemed counterparts from the other party make attacks on my party, that we are not here to protect the minority population,” she said. By standing against the bill, she argued the Democrats were now putting the minority population in jeopardy.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, argued that pro-choice legislators who claim to want to see abortions become “safe, legal and rare” could not in good faith vote against the bill, since it was one that would make abortions more rare.

But the Democrats balked at some of the accusations and language the Republicans were using. At least one letter, cited by Republicans, included calling Planned Parenthood an “abortion franchise.”

Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said the bill seemed to have “an ideological purpose.”

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, argued that some of the data being brought out demonstrated the gap in economic advantages rather than a conscious effort on behalf of Planned Parenthood or any other organization to target minorities.

“Right now in America, unfortunately, the African-American community and other minority communities have more unintended pregnancies because of factors we are ignoring today,” he said.

The bill ultimately passed the House with a vote of 41 in favor and18 opposed, with Rep. Edward Ableser, D-Tempe excused. Three Democrats and two Republicans broke ranks with their parties.

For the Republicans, Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, and Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, voted against the bill. Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale argued the bill did not go far enough, and opposed the bill’s targeting of the doctors, rather than the woman seeking the abortion, but ultimately voted yes.

In committee deliberations, Montenegro said he designed the bill that way in deference to the emotional turmoil a woman goes through before seeking an abortion.

Among the Democrats, Rep. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, said he would support the bill as a Native American because he had witnessed too much decimation of other Native Americans. Rep. Macario Saldate, D-Tucson, and Rep. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix also supported the bill, which she said was due to her pro-life beliefs.

“Long after I leave this Legislature,” Miranda said, “I will answer for this vote to a higher power.”