State Senate bill seeks to ban sex-selective abortions

OLYMPIA — Washington state is among a handful of states this year where lawmakers are seeking to ban abortions sought because of the gender of a fetus, something abortion rights groups say is a veiled effort to expand restrictions to abortion in the state.

Senate Bill 6612, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, would make it a Class C felony, carrying a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine, for a doctor to knowingly perform or attempt an abortion sought solely because of the sex of the fetus. A physician would also face losing his or her medical license.

The bill, which has a public hearing Tuesday morning, notes that the United States, along with other counties, “has petitioned the United National General Assembly to declare sex-selection abortion a crime against women” and that India, Great Britain and China have all taken steps to end the practice.

“The victims of sex-selection abortion are overwhelmingly female,” the bill reads. “Women are a vital part of our society and culture and possess the same fundamental human rights as men.”

Rivers said she introduced the bill because several other states have already banned sex-selective abortions and she wanted to “have a collegial discussion about it.”

“I don’t think this bill will go anywhere, but I would like to keep the profile raised on this very important issue,” she wrote in a text message.

Abortion rights groups argue that sex-selective abortion is not an issue in the United States. Rachel Berkson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington called the Senate bill “a Trojan horse to ban abortion.”

“Of course, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington has long opposed and will continue to oppose reproductive coercion in any form, and that includes societal pressure to have a child of a particular sex,” Rachel Berkson, the group’s executive director, said Monday.

But Berkson said that it’s impossible for doctors to prove the reasons for why a woman is seeking an abortion, and she said she believes it could cause doctors to stereotype women from countries where sex-selection abortion is a known practice.

“We think this would unfairly harm them and stand in the way of their access,” she said.

Seven states currently ban sex-selective abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy group. According to the National Conference of State Legislature, at least four other states, in addition to Washington, have introduced similar measures this year: Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and Missouri.

Even if the Washington state measure progresses out of the Republican-controlled Senate, it is not likely to gain traction in the Democratic-controlled House.

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