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Gender-based abortion ban gets green light

The South Dakota House approved a bill that would make gender-based abortions illegal in response to concerns that other cultures value males over females.

The South Dakota House approved a bill last week that would make gender-based abortions illegal in response to concerns that families around the world value males over females.

House Bill 1162 would "prohibit the practice of sex-selective abortions" in South Dakota, adding further restrictions to the state's restrictive abortion laws. As Mother Jones reported Tuesday, HB 1162 passed the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 60 to 10, paving the way for South Dakota to become the eighth state in the country to ban sex-selective abortions.

State Representative Jenna Haggar, the bill's sponsor, argued on Wednesday that international data compiled by the U.S. government shows that the majority of countries in the world value sons over daughters, and sets a dangerous precedent in the U.S.

"People, for financial or cultural or social or other reasons, expect to be able to abort their unborn baby based on one reason only: the sex of their unborn child," Haggar said. 

She added, "What I find to be of particular interest is the ratios of males compared to females, and the startling documentation that not one country had more females than males...The data consistently showed higher ratios of males over females, and became even more extreme particularly in certain Asian countries."

Haggar's Republican colleagues echoed her concerns with their own experiences and observations.

"Our population in South Dakota is a lot more diverse than it ever was. There are cultures that look at a sex-selection abortion as being culturally okay, and I will suggest to you that we are embracing individuals from some of those cultures in this country, or in this state," State Rep. Don Haggar said. "And I think that's a good thing that we invite them to come, but I think it's also important that we send a message that this is a state that values life, regardless of its sex."

State Rep. Stace Nelson, who spent nearly two decades living in Asia as a Marine, said he observed in that time that the "rest of the world does not value the lives of women as much as I value the lives of my daughter." 

But opponents of the bill argued that the legislation was searching for a problem that didn't exist. 

"Does sex-selection abortions occur in South Dakota right now?" State Rep. Troy Heinert asked at Wednesday's hearing.

REP. JENNA HAGGAR: "Yes, as of right now, if a woman were to walk into an abortion clinic and say, 'I would like to have an abortion for no other reason than my unborn baby is a girl'...she absolutely would get an abortion."HEINERT: "Do you have an instance of where that occurred?" HAGGAR: "What I know is that abortions up to 14 weeks right now are currently legal, so yes, I do believe that occurs."HEINERT: "I guess that proves to me that is based on assumption...The prime sponsor just said that she believes it happens, but can't prove that it happens. I guess my point is I think everybody in this room knows where everybody stands when it comes to this issue. I don't think anyone is 'pro abortion.' I think there are some people who feel it's a woman's right to choose, and there's other people who feel that they can decide. My point is it takes courage to stand up and say, 'This law is unneeded.' If this was happening in South Dakota, then bring it. Show me some instances where this happened...but it takes courage to say, 'This is an unneeded law, it's unneeded regulation.'"

Although there is no hard evidence that suggests women are seeking abortions in South Dakota based on gender, advocates of the bill say it's still a problem that needs to be addressed. 

South Dakota Right to Life Vice President Spencer Cody testified before a House judiciary committee earlier this month and presented a PowerPoint presentation that concluded, "1.1% or approximately 9,200 South Dakotans come from ethnic backgrounds that are known to practice sex selection," linking to U.S. Census data that reported the Asian population in South Dakota was 1.1%. 

Cody also included data that revealed nearly 4% of all abortions in the state were performed on women of ethnic backgrounds. "It's possible that this could be affecting as many as 24 abortions a year," he said.

But when asked by Mother Jones, Cody said, "We don't have any hard data that says, 'This number of sex-selection abortions are taking place in South Dakota.' So we just used some demographic data. That's really the only data we have to go on…The question, if this [ban] would actually affect any South Dakotans, is one we can't answer yet."