The bill, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer Tuesday, aims at doctors or other abortion providers. It allows the father of the aborted baby -- or the maternal grandparents if the mother is a minor -- to take legal action against an abortion provider, who could face up to seven years in jail and the loss of their medical license if convicted.
Proponents of the new measure said it protected against capricious abortions performed because parents preferred a baby of a different race or gender.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican state legislator Steve Montenegro, an evangelical pastor, could not immediately be reached for comment. But Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Brewer, said via email: "Governor Brewer believes society has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable -- the unborn -- and this legislation is consistent with her strong pro-life track record."
Critics of the measure said it was aiming to create another obstacle to abortion for women. "It's to stigmatize women choosing abortion and to create more fear and uncertainty for the medical professionals providing the care," said Bryan Howard, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arizona.
David Michael Cantor, a Phoenix-based criminal lawyer, said the notion that Arizona residents were practicing sex or race-based abortion was a "fantasy."
"We're not Pakistan, we're not China," Cantor said, referring to countries where there is a strong cultural preference for boys. He added that he did not believe mothers who knew they had conceived a mixed-race baby were having abortions for that reason, pointing out that the state has a large number of mixed-race children. "Arizona is just a melting pot," Cantor said.
There is some evidence of sex selection among U.S. immigrant parents, according to research by economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund of Cornell University. They found that U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents were statistically more likely to have a boy if their first child was a girl than were white parents. If the first two children were girls, the third child was 50 percent more likely to be a boy in those communities, according to the economists' analysis of 2000 U.S. Census data.
Edlund said the research suggested "selective abortion based on sex" explained the statistics, since the natural chances of any particular child being male or female are unaffected by the gender of older siblings.
She said she thought the Arizona law made sense. "Our society does not think it's OK to abort based on sex," she said.
But Howard of Planned Parenthood said the motives for an abortion were a matter for the individual to consider. "We don't have evidence of these kinds of motives in the state," he said in reference to sex and race selection. "That being said, it's not my business -- or the legislature's."