Court dismisses lawsuit over Arizona's "race- and sex-selective" abortion ban

A judge dismissed a challenge to a law that reproductive rights advocates say forces doctors to profile patients

Published October 4, 2013 9:54PM (EDT)

                                     (ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)
(ProgressOhio via Flickr Creative Commons)

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit challenging an Arizona law that, while nominally banning abortions based on the sex and race of the fetus, in practice forces doctors to racially profile women seeking abortions.

U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell dismissed the legal challenge on the grounds that the two civil rights groups behind the case, the NAACP and National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, did not have the legal standing to sue. Both groups alleged in the suit that the law stigmatizes the medical decisions made by women of color and is an unconstitutional infringement on a woman's right to abortion.

The Arizona law requires that doctors or nurses who suspect a patient is seeking an abortion because of the sex of her fetus to report her to authorities; doctors who are believed to have performed an abortion for such a reason could be sent to jail. The law, in effect, mandates that medical professionals ask their patients aggressive and invasive questions to find out why they are seeking an abortion, or risk facing criminal charges.

As Salon has previously reported, Arizona's law has been strongly condemned by civil rights and reproductive justice groups:

In addition to restricting women’s access to abortion care by forcing doctors to racially profile women of color and scrutinize their medical choices, the Arizona law willfully stigmatizes one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the state. “The Asian-American population in Arizona grew 93 percent from 2000 to 2010,” [Miriam] Yeung [executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum] says, “and I think lawmakers, instead of welcoming new Arizonans and serving the new members of their community, are fanning racial prejudice and using bills like this to do so.”

The groups behind the lawsuit say that rather than fight the cultural and social norms behind son preference and promote gender equality, the law merely stigmatizes Asian-American women. “Our claim is that this bill was written with racial discrimination and prejudice at its inception,” Yeung explains. “While debating the bill, legislators testified in support of it by saying things  like, ‘We don’t want those people bringing this stuff here, these values here.’”

“This law creates a highly unusual requirement that women state publicly their reason for choosing to terminate a pregnancy -- a private decision they already made with their physician, partner and family,” Bryan Howard, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Arizona, said in a statement.

"We are disappointed the court refused to hear this case, instead choosing to dismiss it on procedural grounds," said Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum. "This law unfairly stereotypes Asian American and African American women and perpetuates anti-immigrant sentiment. The court’s denial that stigma causes real harm is misguided and frankly false. We, and the millions of women of color who live with bias every day, understand its real-world impact on our health and our livelihood."

“Racial discrimination is unconstitutional, and we’re working with our legal team to determine next steps for putting an end to this bigoted law," she added.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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