A Virginia lawmaker has introduced a bill to ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus after a Republican effort in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year to force Democrats into an uncomfortable vote on whether to criminalize the practice of so-called “sex-selective abortion.”
Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, claimed the action on Capitol Hill was unrelated to his bill for the 2013 General Assembly, saying he simply ran out of time to finish it for 2012.
“I don’t want us to become a haven for sex-selective abortion,” he said. “It gets people to thinking that there’s a human being there that we’re not protecting.”
By Virginia law, abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals. No convictions were reported on any abortion laws in the state’s General District or Circuit Court Information System for fiscal years 2011 or 2012.
Some evidence, albeit “limited and inconclusive,” suggests that the practice of sex-selective abortions might occur among Asian communities in the United States, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group that advocates on sexual and reproductive rights issues.
Pro-choice and Asian women’s groups cite numerous problems that such laws would create, wrote Sneha Barot, a senior public policy associate with the institute.
“At the most practical level, such restrictions are neither enforceable nor effective, as already demonstrated internationally,” Ms. Barot wrote in an article earlier this year. “And various attempts to enforce them would only perpetuate further discrimination in their communities through stereotyping and racial profiling of Asian women whose motivations for an abortion would be under suspicion.”
The typical sex ratio at birth is 102 to 106 males for every 100 females, according to the World Health Organization. In 2005, the ratio in the United States was 105 males to 100 females. The ratio of boys per 100 girls in China, one of the most prominent countries where the practice is common, increased from 107 in 1982 to 120 in 2005.
A bill introduced by Rep. Trent Franks earlier this year, would have criminalized abortion based on sex as well as race. The House took up the measure from the Arizona Republican in May under a special procedure that requires 60 percent of the vote for passage. A largely party-line 247-168 vote was not enough to send it to the Democrat-controlled Senate, where it would have undoubtedly languished. Twenty House Democrats sided with the GOP and voted for it, while seven Republicans voted against it.
The White House, and many Democrats, said the bill would put doctors in a compromising situation, both legally and morally.
“[T]he end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the time.
But the thorny issue forced Democrats into an awkward vote meant to counter the narrative that Republicans were waging a “war on women” because of previous positions on contraception and abortion rights.
Democrats had the option of voting for the politically unpalatable bill or leaving themselves open to charges from the GOP that they actually favor the widely condemned practice.
Virginia Delegate Kaye Kory, Fairfax Democrat, said it’s “an insult” men are so heavily involved in litigating such matters, and Mr. Marshall’s measure was a thinly veiled attempt to move toward making abortion illegal in the state.
“I think men have no clue what it’s like to contemplate what it’s like to go through an abortion,” she said. “* f course we don’t like the idea that someone might want an abortion because someone doesn’t want the sex of the child the fetus is, but I think the state needs to stay out of social issues like abortion.”