On Tuesday pro-choice and pro-life advocates appeared before a Senate committee to testify on a bill that would ban abortions in Washington based on the gender of the fetus.
Under Senate bill 6612 a doctor who knowingly performs an abortion based on sex-selection would be guilty of an Class C felony punishable by incarceration and a fine of up to $10,000. The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center.
Michael Pauley of pro-life group Human Life of Washington told lawmakers the bill is necessary because there is evidence suggesting that some Asian-Americans are having abortions based on gender in the United States. He cited a 2011 study in Prenatal Diagnosis that suggests that Asian and Pacific Islanders were selecting males.
“There is a demand that exists for sex selection abortions,” he said. “And regardless of the tragic consequences for society there are abortion providers that will cooperate with the request.”
Janet Chung, an attorney with Legal Voice, a nonprofit advocating for women’s rights, testified against the bill — calling it a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
As a self-identifying “proud Korean-American,” Chung said that the bill accuses Asian Americans of choosing to have abortions because they prefer sons over daughters.
“The ban on abortions based on the sex of the fetus is rooted in ugly and dangerous stereotypes about Asian American women and our community,” Chung said. “Senate Bill 6612 accuses us of not valuing the lives the women and girls in our families. Not only are these stereotypes offensive — they are patently false.”
Chung condemned sex-selection abortions, saying it is a “very real and deeply disturbing problem.” But, she said, “America is not India or China.”
Anuj Khattar, a family medicine physician at Swedish Family Medicine, also spoke in opposition to the bill. He said the ban would create a barrier between the doctor-patient relationship by forcing doctors to “police” a patient’s motivation for having an abortion.
“Out of fear of this bill, doctors will be forced to question the decision of Asian American patients in particular because there is no obvious way to know why patients makes a decision to end a pregnancy,” he said.
Khattar said that patients must be able to trust their doctors to maintain confidentiality. A ban on gender-based abortions would affect doctors’ ability to have honest conversations with patients, he said.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Lakewood asked Khattar “if a women presented to you and told you that she wanted an abortion because she or her husband did not want to have a girl, would you perform that abortion?”
Khattar responded saying, ”I’ve never come across that scenario. It’s their choice and I don’t have to make that decision for them. I’m not the police. I’m going to go along with a woman to allow her to make the decision that is right for her family and my job is to trust them.”
But supporters of the gender ban on abortions say that doctors should not feel threatened by the bill.
Danille Turissini with the Family Policy Institution of Washington said that she used to be pro-choice until she saw an ultrasound of her son.
“That was a game-changer for me,” she said. “I decided that women should have choices, lots of choices, but not that one.”
She said it would not be an issue if a doctor told her, or any other patients, that she couldn’t have a sex-selected abortion.
“It wouldn’t be breaching any confidentially,” Turissini said. “It would be protecting me.”
The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.