Arizona lawmakers give abortion restrictions sharper teeth - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Arizona lawmakers give abortion restrictions sharper teeth

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Posted: Monday, March 21, 2011 6:21 pm | Updated: 3:17 pm, Wed Mar 30, 2011.

State senators voted to make race- and gender-based abortions illegal, but not before adding provisions which could send doctors and others involved in these acts to prison.

Monday's 21-5 vote came amid charges and counter-charges about whether girls and blacks are being targeted in the womb. Lawmakers from each side cited figures designed to back their contentions.

The only clear thing is that the bill, which already has been approved in similar fashion by the House, is likely headed to the governor's desk, possibly by the end of the month. And Jan Brewer has signed every measure restricting abortion that has been sent to her.

HB 2443 does more than make criminals out of doctors who terminate a pregnancy knowing the woman's reason is to select the race or gender of the child. It also imposes criminal penalties on anyone who solicits or accepts funds to finance abortions based on race or sex.

Violators would face a presumptive prison term of 3.5 years.

That latter provision is aimed at Planned Parenthood. Proponents of the measure, citing undercover videos, say organization representatives have taken money from individuals interested in limiting births to African American women.

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, cited figures from the Frederick Douglass Foundation which said that 30 percent of all abortions in Arizona are to black women. The latest census figures show people who identify themselves as black at 4.1 percent of the population.

But the Arizona Department of Health Services reports that in 1999, the most recent year available, 7.3 percent of all abortions were to black women.

Shooter said he was got the press release from Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, the sponsor of the legislation. Montenegro, in turn, said he was relying on the foundation, which describes itself as Christian and pro-life; the foundation's founder, Timothy Johnson, said he got the Arizona statistics from a researcher on his staff.

But Montenegro said any discrepancy in the data is irrelevant.

"No one should be subjected to abortion because they're the wrong sex or race,'' he said.

Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said that's just a cover for a new restriction on abortion.

"This is one of the most offensive, odious pieces of legislation I've ever seen,'' she said.

"It's sexist, it's racist, it's paternalistic, it's disrespectful of women's decision making and moral agency,'' Lopez continued. And she chided the Republicans for pushing this legislation in the name of preventing discrimination while they have cut funds for health care and ignored "institutionalized poverty.''

"It seems that the proponents of this legislation only believe human life is valuable when it's in utero,'' she said.

The figures cited by Shooter were only part of the question of the need for the bill.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said there is no evidence of gender-based abortion in this country. She said the problem is confined to countries like China where parents generally are limited to a single child, and India where parents worry about the cost of a dowry to marry off a girl.

But Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, cited a study based on 2000 census figures from U.S. families of Asian ancestry. It found that when a family already had two girls, the chances of the third child being male was 50 percent higher.

That, Barto said, shows evidence that parents are using abortion for gender selection.

The issue of race is more complex.

Sinema said the argument of race-based abortion makes no sense, as a woman knows at least 50 percent of the baby's background, if not 100 percent. But Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, said the issue is money.

She read a release from Day Gardner, president of the National Black Pro-Life Union which said Planned Parenthood is willing to accept "racist donations, even to the point of being excited at possibility of taking money specifically to kill a black baby.'' That release also said Planned Parenthood puts its facilities "strategically in minority and urban neighborhood.''

The undercover videos are not from Arizona.

Montenegro said his legislation is not an effort to chip away at what federal courts have said is the right of women to terminate their pregnancy.

"The intent of this bill is not to deal with abortion,'' Montenegro said. "The intent of this bill is to deal with discrimination.''

But Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he sees the bill as a means to that end.

"We have an obligation to protect the most innocent among us, the unborn,'' he said. "Whatever we can do to limit the number of deaths of these unborn children, I'm always a 'yes' vote.''

Pearce said the only time a woman should have a choice is when the decision is saving the life of the mother or the unborn child.

"Now you have a real hard decision that a family must make,'' he said. "But until then, it is our responsibility to save lives.''

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