It’s wrong to have an abortion because the fetus isn’t the desired gender, lawmakers and activists on both sides of a controversial bill agreed Wednesday.
Where they disagreed is whether there should be a law against sex-selective abortions.
"We’re faced with a moral urgency," said Rep. Jenna Haggar, R-Sioux Falls. "Sex discrimination is wrong at every age."
On Wednesday, Haggar won the day. Her bill making it a felony to perform an abortion “due to the sex of the unborn child” passed its first committee 9-3 and is headed to the full House of Representatives.
In testimony, a range of anti-abortion advocates said sex-selective abortions were most common in Asian countries such as China and India, as well as among people from Asian cultures living in the United States.
"You cannot explain the male to female demographics that are occurring in birth ratios in some ethnic groups here in the United States… unless you account for sex-selective abortion," said Spencer Cody, vice president of South Dakota Right to Life, referring to a study of Asian-Americans in California.
Abortion rights supporters said they, too, abhor sex-selective abortions. But they said a ban was the wrong way to address the problem.
Heather Smith, executive director of the ACLU South Dakota, said the measure “purports to be about gender equality, but in fact it is a thinly veiled attempt to restrict a woman’s access to abortion care.”
Smith and others said the bill was unenforceable, threatened patient confidentiality and was a moot point because many sex-determination tests aren’t effective during the first trimester when South Dakota law permits abortions.
Supporters said improving technology allows earlier and earlier determination of a fetus’s sex.
"Ten years ago this wouldn’t have been needed," Cody said.
Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee endorsed the measure, with several supporters saying it was an easy vote.
"I think this is a heck of a start for something that absolutely infuriates me," said Rep. Justin Cronin, R-Gettysburg. "This bill may not be perfect, and it may have some questions around it. But I think this is probably the best bill dealing with this issue that (I’ve seen) … in my six years here."
Rep. Anne Hajek, R-Sioux Falls, voted for the bill despite expressing misgivings.
"I’m concerned about this bill because I’m not sure it’s going to accomplish anything," Hajek said. "I can support it, but I’m not sure if it does a whole lot."
The three Democrats on the committee voted against the measure. Rep. Peggy Gibson, D-Huron, said sex-selective abortion was “simply not a problem here in South Dakota” and that the measure was “a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
The measure, House Bill 1162, is one of several abortion-related bills facing the South Dakota Legislature this year. One would ban abortions because of a Down syndrome diagnosis, and another revises the state’s 2011 pre-abortion counseling law.