A bill filed last week by state Rep. Charlie Collins (R-Fayetteville) would ban so called sex-selective or “family balance” abortions.
Collins says the legislation is prompted by immigration to the state of couples from countries where pregnancies are terminated because the sex of the fetus is considered undesirable. He says he’s not aware of an incident here in Arkansas of a woman having an abortion only after she discovered the sex of the fetus. And House Bill 1434 is largely a statement “clarifying that what happens broadly in other places, for sure, is going to be illegal here.”
But it’s not clear how the bill would be enforced. The Arkansas Dept. of Health keeps some abortion data, such as race and individual abortion procedure totals, but not the stated reasons for abortions, and the bill doesn’t provide for that.
It would require doctors and staff of abortion service providers to ask if women know the sex of the fetus, and if they do, it would criminalize those who knowingly perform an abortion on a woman who says she wishes for an opposite sex child. It appears to leave doctors and staff open for lawsuits if they omit to ask at all. And if a woman knows the sex of the child, regardless of whether it’s the reason for termination, “an abortion shall not be performed until reasonable time and effort is spent to obtain the medical records of the pregnant woman,” presumably to infer if she demonstrates a pattern of sex selecting.
In a typical pregnancy the sex of a fetus is determined by ultrasound around week 18 or 20.
The woman herself wouldn’t be criminally liable or vulnerable to civil action, but the medical staff involved could face a lawsuit and/or a Class A misdemeanor charge, which would include having medical licenses suspended or revoked.
Collins said he doesn’t know exactly how the prohibition would be enforced. He imagines that individual doctors would gain a reputation for shirking the law. He can’t imagine, he said, an active approach to seeking offenders of the prohibition.
Messages left at several abortion service providers Friday went unanswered. Sarah Humphries, a nurse at Arkansas Fertility & Gynecology, said her office occasionally gets inquiries about sex selection of embryos for the purposes of what she called “family balancing,” but Arkansas Fertility and Gynecology doesn’t do that, and she’s never heard of a sex-selective abortion in Arkansas.
Arkansas Right to Life director Rose Mimms said that Collins worked on the language of the bill with the Family Council of Arkansas, and that had he consulted her organization, she would have asked for broader bans. “Tell you what, our bill would’ve been much more inclusive. It would’ve included disabilities like Down Syndrome, and race … in cases of rape.”
In 2015, the number of induced abortions in the state was 3,771, according to Dept. of Health records. The percentage of these performed on women who’d had at least two previous abortions was 18.7% (701).
“I’m not aware that Mrs. or Ms. Smith [for example] had a sex selective abortion,” Collins explained, “but I also know that it’s prevalent around the world, that it’s prevalent in many cultures, and as we have a more and more diverse population, I think at a minimum it’s helpful for people of all background and cultures, to understand that in the United States and in Arkansas, specifically, making an abortion decision based solely on the sex selection of the child is not legal. It’s prohibited.”
The bill will get a hearing before the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, perhaps as early as Tuesday, in room 130 at 10 a.m.
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