- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A South Dakota legislative panel on Wednesday approved a measure that would ban abortions sought because of the gender of a fetus after supporters said scientific advances are making it easier to determine the sex of a fetus earlier in a pregnancy.

The measure’s main sponsor, Rep. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, said people in some Asian nations are aborting female fetuses because they want sons. The practice could spread to South Dakota because tests to identify the gender of a fetus are available in every drug store, she said.

“We’re faced with a moral urgency. Sex discrimination is wrong at any age. We must act now,” Haggar said.

Opponents said the measure is another attempt to hinder a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in South Dakota and would be difficult to enforce.

Abbie Peterson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South Dakota, said the measure interferes with a woman’s right to make a private medical decision. The bill is unrealistic because it would require a doctor to investigate whether a woman was seeking an abortion because of the fetus’s gender, she said.

“There’s no way a doctor can know every thought in a woman’s mind and every motive behind her decision-making,” Peterson said.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-3 to send the measure to the full House for further debate.

The bill would make it a Class 6 felony, carrying a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine, for a doctor to knowingly perform or attempt an abortion sought because of a fetus’s gender.

In addition to questions doctors already have to ask women seeking abortions, they also would have to ask women whether they used a test to determine the fetus’s gender and whether the abortion was sought because of the fetus’s gender.

South Dakota already requires women seeking abortions to wait at least three days after first seeing a doctor. A 2011 law also requires women to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers, which discourage abortions, before they can terminate a pregnancy. The counseling requirement, imposed to determine whether a woman is being coerced into getting an abortion, is still being challenged in federal court, where a judge has temporarily blocked it from taking effect.

Spencer Cody, of Hoven, vice president of South Dakota Right to Life, said blood tests early in a pregnancy can accurately determine a fetus’s sex.

But Heather Smith, director of the American Civil Liberties Union-South Dakota, said it is unlikely women would know the gender of a fetus before the time limit for getting an abortion at Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls, the state’s only abortion clinic.

Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said she voted against the bill because South Dakota has no problem with abortions due to fetal gender.

“It’s just a poorly written bill that does not accomplish anything,” Gibson said.

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit whose statistics are widely respected, reports that seven other states already have laws banning abortion based on the gender of a fetus. Such laws remain in effect in six states, but it has been blocked by a court in one.

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