By David Schwartz
PHOENIX (Reuters) - The Arizona House of Representatives on Wednesday approved controversial legislation that would make the state the first in the nation to ban abortions conducted due to the race or gender of the fetus.
The bill approved in the House by a vote of 35-20 now goes to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican. Brewer has not said if she will sign it into law.
"This legislation has just reached the governor's desk, so she'll be studying it in the days ahead," said Brewer's spokesman Matt Benson.
"But it's worth noting that Governor Brewer has an exceptionally strong pro-life record as an elected official."
The moves comes as abortion opponents across the nation try to seize on gains made by conservatives in the November 2010 elections and further restrict the procedure.
The bill would make Arizona the first U.S. state to ban abortions for reasons of race or gender, lawmakers said.
It would not penalize women who have an abortion for those reasons, but would make it a felony for doctors and other medical professionals to perform such abortions, and prohibit anyone else from paying for them.
"No one - not even in the womb - should be subject to discrimination because they are a girl or a boy or are of the wrong race," said Representative Steve Montenegro, the Republican sponsor of the bill. "That is just wrong,"
Montenegro told Reuters the legislation did not deal with whether abortion itself should be legal, but instead was meant to address sex and race discrimination.
But opponents said there is no clear evidence that abortions for reasons of race or sex are a problem in Arizona or other parts of the nation.
"I've got to stand against this big government intrusion and meddling in people's personal lives, that's all this is," Representative Daniel Patterson, a Democrat who voted against the measure, said on the House floor.
Cynde Cerf, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Federation of America called the bill "nothing more than a way to further vilify women who seek abortion care in Arizona."
Under current law, women in Arizona do not need to tell a doctor why they are having an abortion, and Planned Parenthood is concerned the bill would force doctors to ask their patients their reasons for the procedure, Cerf said.
The Arizona Senate approved the bill earlier this week by a vote of 21-5.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Jerry Norton)