A state Senate committee narrowly defeated a proposal Tuesday (May 26) that would have banned abortions in Louisiana when performed on the basis of the sex of the unborn child.
The Louisiana House of Representatives approved the measure 80-2 two weeks ago, but the bill was squashed in committee Tuesday after a contentious back-and-fourth in which the bill’s sponsor implied voting down her bill amounted to an endorsement of killing infant girls.
The sex-selection abortion ban, a version of which has been adopted in eight other states, sought to prevent what its sponsor, state Rep. Lenar Whitney, R-Houma, referred to as “the most violent form of discrimination against women.” She said it is a worldwide problem driven by a preference, among some, for male children.
There’s no evidence of gender-based abortions occurring in Louisiana, she said, but she sought the measure to prevent the practice from happening. Opponents, however, said the legislation was designed to create a “chilling effect” for abortion doctors and clinic staffers and would encourage “meritless lawsuits.”
The bill would have created a civil cause of action for the mothers, fathers and grandparents of the unborn child to sue anyone who facilitated an abortion with knowledge that it was performed based on sex selection. It also holds civilly liable those involved in “any attempt to perform an abortion,” who might have known the women’s choice was based on the unborn child’s sex. The relatives of the unborn child could file for an injunction to stop an abortion they allege to be based on gender discrimination.
“It opens up clinic staff and physicians to lawsuits in an unprecedented manner,” said Ellie Schilling, a reproductive rights lawyer based in New Orleans.
The hearing grew tense when Whitney made her final pitch to the four present members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary B, after a handful of people testified in support and against the measure. She said even those who believe in abortion rights must agree that “some things are just wrong.”
“If you’re willing to kill baby girls, you should vote ‘no,'” Whitney read from prepared notes. “If not, this is an easy ‘yes’ vote for you.”
State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, who voted against the bill, called the implication “harmful.” State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said the statement was “inflammatory.”
Peterson went “on record” to confirm she “is not for killing baby girls.”
“Do I look like a murderer? Do you really believe that?” Peterson asked Whitney. “Why do you think it’s OK to impose your views on other people?”
At Peterson’s prompting, Whitney read back the remark again.
Morrell noted he has a daughter. He said the legislative process allows for lawmakers to respectively disagree. “Words matter,” he added.
Whitney noted earlier that 160 million women are missing, possibly because of sex-selection abortions. She said the practice is prevalent especially in a number of Asian countries, as well as in Latin America, parts of Europe and in some parts of the United States. She also noted she did not intend to single out a particular culture or region.
Son Ah Yun, the national field director for the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, testified against the bill, calling the suggestion that Asian Americans don’t value the lives of girls “offensive.”
“(The legislation) seeks to exploit an international problem to push a domestic agenda… based on false stereotypes,” Ah Yun said.
Louisiana Family Forum President Gene Mills testified in support of the bill, calling the legislation “a modest and reasonable proposal,” that seeks to stop an especially unethical reason for aborting a child. “(But) for the pro-life movement, (there is) never an ethical reason to end the life of a child.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal‘s policy advisor Natalie LaBorde submitted a green card in support of the bill but did not testify.
Voting against the legislation were Morrell and Peterson. Voting to advance the legislation were Sens. Norbert Chabert, R-Houma and Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte. The failed 2-2 vote on Chabert’s motion to advance the bill meant it was permanently shelved.
Agreeing that pregnancies should not be terminated based on the sex of the unborn child, Morrell said he wanted to create a task force through a legislative resolution to gather information and learn if that type of abortion is occurring in Louisiana.
“You’re very passionate, and I appreciate that,” he told Whitney. He voted it down, he said, “because I think it does more harm than good.”