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February 25, 2014 1:12 PM “Sex-Selective Abortion” Bans: An Attempted Three-Cushion Shot

By Ed Kilgore

Antichoicers are a crafty bunch, forever coming up with ways to make their fundamentally extremist and unpopular POV seem reasonable, the better to expand their limited base of support. The most obvious and important example is their skill at drafting legislation advertised as an effort to crack down on horrible-sounding late-term abortions, but actually focused on limiting access to abortions at any stage (thereby arguably increasing the need for those late-term abortions).

A relatively new arrow in the antichoice quiver is the subject of a fine post by MoJo’s Molly Redden: bans on “sex-selective abortions.” Based on vague reports of abortions by Chinese women chafing under their government’s “one child” policy (which is actually being relaxed) and determined to ensure that one child is a boy, Republican-controlled states are beginning to pass bans of this alleged practice:

South Dakota already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation. But last week, Republican legislators there moved to make it even harder for women to have abortions—with a law they argue is necessary to stop an influx of Asian immigrants from aborting their female children.
On Wednesday, by a vote of 60 to 10, the South Dakota House passed a bill that would ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus, or “sex-selective” abortions. Speaking in favor of the bill, Stace Nelson, a Republican state representative running for the US Senate, hearkened back to his time living in Asia as a Marine. “Many of you know I spent 18 years in Asia,” Nelson said. “And sadly, I can tell you that the rest of the world does not value the lives of women as much as I value the lives of my daughters…..”
Seven states already prohibit sex-selective abortions. In five states, the bans passed after the 2010 elections that swept Republicans into a record number of statehouses. South Dakota’s ban, which is now before the state Senate, would require physicians to ask women seeking abortions whether they are doing so because of the sex of the fetus. If a woman responds yes, her physician must refuse to perform the abortion, or else risk prison and fines.

Proponents of this kind of legislation must think Asians are not only misogynist, but too stupid to come up with another reason for seeking an otherwise entirely legal abortion. But in any event, the motivation here is pretty transparent: to come up with a restriction that addresses (however ineffectually) a scary and despicable-sounding abortion rationale that sounds vaguely feminist, but also exerts a special appeal to nativists (South Dakota’s Asian population is growing rapidly at present). Add in the ChiCom factor, and it’s a real three-cushion shot enabling proponents to claim they are protecting the female portion of the population against a godless commie Yellow Peril. It’s a first cousin to the “abortion as genocide” argument antichoicers like to use among African-Americans, though in this case the intended audience is different, to put it mildly. But back to Redden:

Peggy Gibson, a Democratic state representative who voted against the South Dakota bill, said the right-to-lifers are pushing a phony issue. “I did not hear the sponsor of the bill give one iota of evidence that a [sex-selective] abortion has taken place in South Dakota. This bill…is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

That may not be 100% true: it helps address the problem of antichoicers sounding they view women as nothing more than “hosts” for fetal life. It doesn’t help much, to be sure, but every little bit helps, even if it requires a little xenophobic racism.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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