A Republican-backed Washington state bill to criminalize so-called sex-selective abortions passed out of the state senate’s Law and Justice Committee this week in a 4-3 party-line vote.
The bill cites similar policies in countries such as India and China, noting, “The victims of sex-selection abortion are overwhelmingly female.” National research has shown there is no discrepancy between the gender ratios of births by Asian-American women and women of other races in the United States.
Under SB 6612, abortion providers who knowingly perform or attempt to perform an abortion on the basis of gender could face up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine. The crime would be a felony, and a doctor would lose his or her medical license.
Language in the anti-choice bill does not indicate how an abortion provider is to determine the reason the patient has chosen to end a pregnancy. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups have described so-called sex-selective abortion bans as legislation with “discriminatory intent.”
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Senate Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden (R-Spokane Valley), one of the bill’s sponsors, described the legislation as a “very modest step to restrict abortion,” at the committee meeting Wednesday. Lawmakers, he noted, “have an obligation to protect the most vulnerable among us.”
Law and Justice Committee member Sen. Jamie Pedersen (D-Seattle) countered that the bill might violate doctor-patient privacy by requiring physicians to ask whether the gender of the fetus was the reason for the abortion.
Anti-choice advocates often point to a trio of studies that suggest the prevalence of sex-selective abortion among a small number of immigrant women, but the practice is not considered a widespread problem in the United States.
Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), one of the bill’s sponsors, told the Associated Press that other states passed similar bans and she wanted to “have a collegial discussion about it.”
At least 13 states have introduced legislation to outlaw abortions based on sex, race, or genetics, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Arizona prohibits abortions based on gender or race.
The Law and Justice Committee heard public testimony on the legislation on Tuesday. Opponents called SB 6612 a thinly disguised ploy to chip away at safe and legal abortion care.
Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, said in a statement that the bill is a “disingenuous, inflammatory, and an unenforceable invasion of privacy that would require doctors to act as mind readers and law-enforcement officers instead of caregivers.”
“NARAL opposes any kind of reproductive coercion,” she said. “But bans on sex-selective abortions do nothing to address the gender inequalities that impact women and girls in our state, including gender pay inequity, lack of workplace protections for pregnant women, and barriers to access for women seeking contraception and basic reproductive health care.”
SB 6612 now moves to the Republican-dominated Senate Rules Committee, a senate staffer told Rewire. The Rules Committee is made up of 12 Republicans and nine Democrats. The next step would be the full state senate, which is equally represented by Republicans and Democrats.