Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law on Tuesday a measure banning abortions performed strictly on the basis of genetic disorders detected in the fetus, such as Down syndrome or cystic fibrosis, unless the condition is considered lethal.
The bill, approved in Arizona’s Republican-controlled legislature along strict party-line votes last week, makes it a felony for a medical professional to terminate a pregnancy solely on the basis of a hereditary abnormality in the fetus.
Doctors performing such an abortion could face prison time under the newly enacted statute, which opponents have denounced as medically unsound and unconstitutional. A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona said that group and others are weighing a legal challenge.
The bill is due to take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns for the year.
Support from Ducey, who has never vetoed an abortion restriction and calls himself “proudly pro-life,” was not unexpected.
“There’s immeasurable value in every single life – regardless of genetic makeup,” Ducey, a Republican now in his second term as governor, said in a statement. “We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our preborn children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives.”
In addition to outlawing abortions based on genetic abnormalities, the measure – Senate Bill 1457 – also makes it a felony to use force or threat to intimidate a woman into terminating her pregnancy on that basis, or to accept or solicit money to pay for such an abortion.
The measure does not apply to cases in which a genetic condition is considered lethal to the fetus or to abortions sought for other reasons allowed by state law, including protection of the life and health of the mother, Ducey said.
The new law requires any doctor who performs an abortion to complete an affidavit attesting that the woman is not terminating her pregnancy due to an abnormality, and it requires the physician to inform the mother that abortions based on a child’s race, sex or any genetic disorder are illegal.
Various federal courts have taken divergent stands on such restrictions.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled earlier this month that Ohio can enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that causes cognitive impairment and developmental delays.
That court held that the Ohio statute did not create a substantial barrier to obtaining abortions, was reasonably related to the state’s legitimate interests and was “valid in all conceivable cases.”
But the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared a similar Arkansas law unconstitutional in January. That split could prompt the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 conservative majority to take up the issue.
Supporters of the measure say it is intended as a safeguard against modern-day eugenics, the notion of selective reproduction to “breed out” hereditary disease, disabilities and traits deemed undesirable from the human population.
The American Civil Liberties Union, condemning the bill, said it “will undoubtedly have unintended consequences for people who experience pregnancy loss of any kind and will force people to carry pregnancies to term against their will.”