With the shiny new session of the Texas Legislature a mere six days away, your lawmakers are gearing up to debate some important issues, like handsy TSA agents and whether we should drug-test people who have the audacity to file for emergency welfare relief. But, as ever, some legislators are most concerned with all things uterus-related. House Rep. Allen Fletcher of Harris County's District 130 has filed the newest piece of anti-abortion legislation, which would ban "sex-selective" abortions, or what he refers to as "pre-natal discrimination."
Fletcher, a former Houston police officer and current vice chair of the Homeland Security & Public Safety committee, filed the bill on December 19. If passed, it would stipulate that a person "may not knowingly perform or attempt to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman knowing that the abortion is based on the sex of the pregnant woman's unborn child."
Although the women having the abortion wouldn't face any criminal charges, a doctor who violated the law could have their license suspended or revoked. More disturbingly, the bill also stipulates that the father of the "unborn child" could legally sue for damages if a sex-selective abortion took place. In fact, the bill says that the father or the maternal grandparent of the fetus (if the pregnant woman is under 18) could sue for "injunctive relief." That means they could try to block the abortion from happening, if they claimed it was being performed based on the sex of the fetus.
First, a little background. Pro-life groups in the United States have taken up sex-selective abortion as a cause celebre in the past year or so, insisting that minority communities, (specifically Indian and East Asian ones) are aborting female fetuses at an "alarming rate," as Texas Right to Life puts it.
"It's very sad to see innocent life end because that child was not the correct sex for the mother, " Fletcher said in a press release announcing his bill. "The targeted victims of this horrifying practice are overwhelmingly female. Prenatal discrimination is unacceptable and I proudly stand by this important legislation." (Interestingly, there was absolutely no response to the bill from the two main anti-abortion groups in the state, Texas Right to Life and Texas Alliance for Life. TRL is still touting their Rick Perry-supported "fetal pain" measure, although it still hasn't been filed.)
In reality, the Guttmacher Institute, widely considered the best resource on reproductive health, says that while sex-selective abortion is common in East and South Asia, there's no data indicating that it's a serious problem here, although it may be occurring on a (very) small scale:
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In the United States, meanwhile, there is limited data indicating that sex-selective abortion may be occurring in some Asian communities, although the U.S. sex ratio, at 1.05 males for every female, is squarely within biologically normal parameters.
As this Washington Post piece points out, the Center for Disease Control says the male to female birth ratio in the United States has remained "remarkably stable" since the 1940s. Moreover, about 90 percent of abortions happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, before the sex of the fetus can be determined.
Sex-selective abortion bans are currently on the books in Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois, while a similar law is pending in Kansas. But an attempt to pass the "Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act" through Congress failed earlier this year. A Guttmacher analysis calls these laws "disingenuous," arguing they "would do nothing to address the entrenched gender bias that underlies the practice, but instead would harm women's health and rights."
In other words: This bill aims to solve a non-existent problem, outrages "a broad spectrum of civil rights groups and reproductive rights and justice organizations" as Guttmacher puts it, and would further nick away at abortion access for Texas women. Sounds like a slam-dunk.