Arizona Governor Signs Law to Protect Unborn Children With Genetic Abnormalities

April 27, 2021 Updated: April 28, 2021

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a measure into law on April 27 that seeks to protect unborn children from abortions performed strictly on the basis of genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome.

The law, which was approved by the state legislature last week, makes it a crime for medical providers to terminate a pregnancy knowing that the procedure was sought solely because of a genetic abnormality of a child, except in a medical emergency. The measure also prohibits public colleges and universities from performing an abortion, forbids mail delivery of abortion-inducing medication, and allows the father or maternal grandparents of an unborn child who was aborted due to a genetic disorder to sue on behalf of an unborn child.

“Every life holds immeasurable value—regardless of genetic makeup. Today, I signed legislation to prioritize life in our preborn children and protect those with genetic abnormalities,” Ducey said in a statement. “Arizona remains among the top pro-life states in the nation, and my sincere thanks goes to Senator Nancy Barto for her leadership and work on this life-saving issue and to those who supported this bill.”

The measure, dubbed SB 1457, also requires a doctor or abortionist to complete an affidavit stating that he or she isn’t performing an abortion because of the child’s genetic abnormality. It also requires the abortionist to inform the mother that it’s unlawful to perform an abortion due to the child’s race, sex, or genetic abnormality, and report any violations of the statute.

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An ultrasound is performed in an illustration photograph. (Illustration – Shutterstock)

The move to enact the law was celebrated by various pro-life and conservative groups including the Center for Arizona Policy, which had argued that the measure prevents discrimination against children diagnosed with a disability prior to birth.

“Arizona women will be ensured commonsense safeguards if they choose the abortion pill. Arizona taxpayers will not be forced to support abortions at public colleges and universities, and the laws of Arizona will be interpreted to value all human life,” the group’s president, Cathi Herrod, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the bill was opposed by state Democrats who argued that the bill is overly broad and intrusive and could potentially undermine a woman’s ability to access an abortion as allowed under Supreme Court precedents.

The Democrat lawmakers also took issue that the language of the bill confers “personhood” to an unborn child, meaning that he or she would be granted all rights, privileges, and immunities of any other citizen.

This means “any harm to the fetus may carry criminal or civil sanctions never before contemplated,” the lawmakers argued.

“Although the bill states the personhood status must be consistent with Supreme Court precedent, it is not hard to see how this provision could be easily interpreted to erase the universe of protections afforded to women under law of the land since Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”

State Rep. Diego Espinoza of Tolleson was among Democrats who lamented the governor’s action.

“Gov. Ducey’s decision to sign SB1457 is not pro-life. It is anti-families, anti-woman, and anti-doctor. I’m disappointed to see Arizona moving in this direction, ignoring the needs and desires of doctors, women, and families for an extreme political agenda,” he wrote in a statement on Twitter.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month ruled in a 9–7 en banc decision (pdf) to reverse a lower court ruling that blocked a similar law that seeks to prohibit Down syndrome abortions, known as the “Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act,” from being enforced.

The 2017 law prohibits a doctor from performing an abortion if he or she has knowledge that the mother’s reason for aborting the pregnancy is due to a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Doctors who violate the law could be punished criminally and result in the revocation of their medical license.

Follow Janita on Twitter: @janitakan