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SD gender abortion ban bill criticized, revised

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By Nora Hertel

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PIERRE (AP) — South Dakota's proposed ban on gender-selective abortions would stigmatize Asian-Americans and promote racial stereotypes, opponents of the measure said during a hearing Monday.

Lena Tran, an Asian-American student at the University of South Dakota, said the ban would result in racial profiling against Asian women in doctors' offices.

"I personally would not get an abortion," Tran said to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. "I do not want my friends and neighbors to look at me with suspicion."

The bill would make abortions based on the fetus' gender illegal, and physicians who do so could be charged with a felony. The committee deadlocked 3-3 on the measure Monday, which means the bill's sponsors can offer amendments when it is taken back up on Wednesday. The House passed the bill on Feb. 19.

Rep. Don Haggar, R-Sioux Falls, suggested during a House debate that the bill was necessary because of an influx of immigrants to the state. And Rep. Stace Nelson, R-Fulton, said that he spent 18 years in Asia in the military and believes parts of the world don't value women as much as he values his daughters.

No one at Monday's hearing endorsed sex-selective abortions, and there are no available statistics to demonstrate that sex-selective abortions have taken place in the state.

"We really have no indication as to whether this is really a problem. Or is this a solution looking for a problem?" asked Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, R-Rapid City. A Fiscal Impact Statement on the bill says, "violations are likely to be rare, and successful prosecutions very rare."

South Dakota is among a number of states proposing legislation to ban gender-selective abortions. A similar bill that explicitly references race is currently being challenged in Arizona courts. The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit whose statistics are widely respected, reports that seven other states already have laws banning abortion based on the gender of a fetus. Such laws remain in effect in six states.

Those pushing to ban sex-selective abortions, though, say safeguards are necessary because the sex of the fetus can be determined earlier than ever, allowing more time to seek the procedure before the 12th week of pregnancy after which it's more difficult to have an abortion in South Dakota.

"This bill has nothing to do with race," said Rep. Jenna Haggar, the bill's main sponsor. "These abortions are wrong. They're wrong in any and every culture."

The Sioux Falls Republican said advancements in gender testing allow parents to learn the sex of a fetus earlier than ever, adding, "we would be naive to think that this type of abortion could not happen here and right now."

She said that no country in the world has more women than men and in some nations it is more culturally valuable to have sons.

Opponents, though, say the bill chips away at abortion rights and promotes racial profiling of Asian-American women.

"We object profusely to the way our community is being used to promote this bill," said Shivana Jorawar, a representative of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum who testified by phone. "It co-opts the language of equality while undermining the equality of Asian-Americans."

Republican Sen. Blake Curd, who is a medical doctor in Sioux Falls, raised a number of concerns about the bill, asking why it would place the blame on doctors rather than the women seeking abortions.

"It's ironically misogynistic to me to say that a woman can't make the decision based on the information that she has at hand," Curd said.

Haggar said she believes women are often coerced into having abortions, and supporters of the measure say it complements existing anti-coercion legislation. Currently in South Dakota, women must to wait 72 hours and demonstrate they aren't being coerced into having the procedure.

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