PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Tuesday signed into law a controversial bill that makes the state the first in the nation to outlaw abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus.
The move comes as anti-abortion groups across the nation try to seize on gains made by political conservatives during the November elections, seeking enactment of new state laws to further restrict abortions.
Under the new Arizona statute, doctors and other medical professionals would face felony charges if they could be shown to have performed abortions for the purposes of helping parents select their offspring on the basis of gender or race.
The women having such abortions would not be penalized.
State legislators have said no such law exists anywhere else in the nation.
Backers of the measure said the ban is needed to put an end to sex- and race-related discrimination that exists in Arizona and throughout the nation. They insist the issue is about bias rather than any broader stance on abortion.
"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," a spokesman said.
But opponents have maintained that while such abortions may be happening in other countries like China, no clear evidence can found of it occurring in Arizona.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America also said the measure may erode a woman's rights, fearing that doctors for the first time would feel compelled to ask their patients the reasons for seeking an abortion.
A Planned Parenthood official in Arizona condemned the governor's action in a statement to Reuters.
"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," said Bryan Howard, the group's chief executive.
The law contains no explicit provision requiring doctors to ask their patients their reasons for seeking an abortion, nor for patients to disclose such reasons. But opponents of the measure feel passage of the new law might make them feel more inclined to do so.
The law would take effect 90 days following the end of the current legislative session.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan