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House panel OKs ban on sex-based abortions

WASHINGTON (BP) — A U.S. House of Representatives committee has approved a bill prohibiting abortions based on a child’s sex or race.

The House Judiciary Committee endorsed the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, H.R. 3541, in a party-line vote. Republicans on the panel outpolled Democrats 20-13.

“As Americans, all of us know in our hearts that aborting a little baby because he or she happens to be the wrong color or because she is a little girl instead of a little boy is fundamentally wrong,” Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., the bill’s sponsor, said at the committee meeting.

The legislation would bar doctors and medical staff members from performing an abortion if they know the intent of the procedure is based on race or gender.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and other pro-life organizations support Franks’ proposal.

Abortion rights advocates oppose the bill.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a written statement the proposal “likely would restrict the ability of women of color to obtain abortion care, and ultimately could jeopardize the availability of abortion services for all women. Given that the Franks bill subjects providers to fines or a prison sentence for failure to detect that a woman is seeking abortion services for reasons of race or sex selection, the legislation essentially would encourage racial profiling in the doctor’s office.”

Franks rejected Keenan’s assertion.

“There is nothing in this bill that requires doctors to police or to have some responsibility to ask their patients anything about the motivations for the abortion,” he said.

In defense of requiring doctors to report the intent of a woman seeking a sex- or race-selection abortion, Franks used an analogy: If a doctor prescribes a drug that could kill but does not know the purpose of its use, that doctor is not breaking the law, but if the doctor knew the intent was to kill “then, of course, he would be implicated as part of the crime,” Franks said.

According to the bill, “The evidence strongly suggests that some Americans are exercising sex-selection abortion practices.”

A March 2008 study suggested sex-based abortion is being practiced in some communities in the United States. The report, published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences, said the increase in son preference is noticeable in census data and “sex-selection abortion is happening in the United States.” The research found American-born children of Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian parents were more likely than those of white parents to be boys if the first children in the families were girls, according to ABC News. The third child in such communities was 50 percent more likely to be a boy if the first two children were girls.

Franks introduced a similar bill in 2009, but it was held up in a committee. Franks’ state, Arizona, is the only one that has a race-selection abortion ban. Gender-selection abortion laws exist in four states: Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. Florida is also considering such legislation.

According to a Zogby International poll last March, 86 percent of Americans agree on making sex-selection abortions illegal.

The committee voted Feb. 16.
Mark Norton, a senior at California Baptist University in Riverside, Calif., is attending the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ Washington Journalism Center this semester and serving as an intern with Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Mark Norton