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Abortions for sex selection: Gender discrimination or ugly stereotype?

OLYMPIA – Outlawing abortions for parents who want to select the gender of their baby would be a way for Washington to say it doesn’t allow sex discrimination anywhere, supporters of a bill told a Senate committee Tuesday.

But opponents told the panel the bill is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist in the state and perpetuates a ugly stereotype about Asian Americans.

Senate Bill 6612 would create civil and criminal penalties for a doctor who performs an abortion for a patient who doesn’t want a child of a particular gender. Supporters say it is primarily used by parents in Asian and Pacific Island cultures who want boys but tests show the fetus as a girl. 

Some studies suggest that the higher number of boy babies being born, particularly for families that already have two girl children, is evidence of sex selections, Michael Pauley of Human Life Washington told the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Angela Connelly of the Washington Womens Network called it “genderacide” that is creating a major demographic crisis in China. The group opposes discrimination against women of all kinds, she said, and that includes being “discriminated against in the womb.”

But Janet Chung, an attorney for the advocacy group Legal Voice, called the bill “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” that tries to chip away at women’s health rights. The law is rooted in an untrue stereotype that Asian Americans don’t value girls as much as boys, but census figures show more girls are born to Asian Americans than Caucasians, she said.

“America is not India or China,” Chung said, adding that states that have passed similar laws have seen no effect in the number of children of each gender born.

Anuj Khattar, a family practice physician from Seattle, said there’s no obvious way to know why a woman chooses to end a pregnancy, and it’s not his job to police that. “My role as a physician is to trust my patient’s decision-making,” he said.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County, asked what he would do if a patient told him she didn’t want to have a girl. Khattar said that’s never happened, but if it did, “I’m willing to do whatever the woman says she needs done.”

Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, asked how the bill determines the intention of a woman to end a pregnancy because of sex selection. Committee staff replied the bill does not address that issue.

The bill will have to be approved by a majority of the committee by Friday to meet a key legislative deadline.

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Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981. He is currently the political reporter and state government reporter in the newspaper's Olympia bureau office.

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