With only two Republicans opposed, the state House voted Monday to make it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if they know the mother's reason is gender or race selection.
The 41-18 vote came after an hour of heated debate, with the chief proponent of HB 2442 in effect equating those who perform such abortions as "the people behind genocides.''
"I introduced this bill to put an end to offensive and repugnant practices which have no place in an egalitarian, multi-cultural society,'' said Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park. He said it will send a message that all Arizonans are valuable.
Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, said there is no evidence that sex- or race-based abortions are being performed in Arizona. And Heinz, a physician, said most abortions are performed before the 12th week of pregnancy, before it is possible to determine the gender of the child.
Montenegro, however, cited studies -- albeit on a national level -- that prove otherwise. And Montenegro was openly contemptuous of anyone who would oppose what he was trying to do.
"They'll find a way to defend the indefensible,'' he said. "And they'll rationalize it with smooth words.''
He said the legislation is built on the simple premise that the life of a woman is equal to that of a man, or that a black person is equal to a white person.
"But some people don't believe that,'' he said.
"And those people do not deserve your protection and my protection, any my protection,'' Montenegro continued. "These people have wreaked enough damage in our world already. They're the people behind genocides. They tell minorities and women that they are worth less.''
Other supporters weighed in with their own reasons.
"One of the reasons that God put me in this place as a legislator is to protect the lives of innocent, unborn children,'' said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale.
And Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Apache Junction, said he believes lawmakers are required to protect citizens and that life begins at conception.
"If those things are put together we have a responsibility to protect any child that is conceived that may not yet be born in the state,'' he said.
But Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, said she could not support the legislation.
Brophy McGee said she opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. And she said called abortion based on race or gender "abhorrent.''
"But I do not believe in punishing the doctor for the patient's choice and decision,'' she said.
To enforce the law, the legislation requires doctors to sign an affidavit saying that, to the best of their knowledge, the abortion is not being done for race or gender selection.
The legislation carries no criminal penalties. Instead, a doctor could be subject to civil lawsuits by the father of the unborn child. And the attorney general or county attorney could go to court to block such procedures.
There are no penalties for the woman.
Some of the debate turned on what evidence there is -- or is not -- that females are being aborted at a higher rate. But the issue of race-based abortions was murkier, dealing not so much with individual decisions but what proponents of the legislation say is the targeting of minorities.
One provision of the legislation would make it illegal for anyone to solicit or accept money to finance sex- or race-based abortions. Proponents said that is aimed at Planned Parenthood.
Rep. Tom Forese, R-Gilbert, read a letter from Republican Congressman Trent Franks who has introduced similar legislation at a national level. Franks claimed that hidden camera videos showed Planned Parenthood officials -- he did not say where -- agreeing to accept donations earmarked solely for abortion of black children.
"Planned Parenthood's eugenics-based race history is well known,'' Forese quoted Franks as writing.
That brought an angry reaction from Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson. He said the record shows Planned Parenthood was created nearly 100 years ago as a method of getting birth control to women, a practice that was illegal in many states.
And House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the record refutes Montenegro's contention that most Planned Parenthood clinics are in heavily minority neighborhoods.