Seeking to further restrict abortions in North Carolina, the Republican-led House voted Tuesday to approve legislation that would prohibit the carrying out of abortions on the basis of the gender of the fetus.
The House voted 79-40 in favor of the measure, which also would allow a pregnant woman or others close to her to sue the doctor for damages. Hefty fines could be levied against a doctor who doesn't follow a court order against such sex-selective abortions and is found in contempt. Republicans who took control of the Legislature after the 2010 elections passed new abortion restrictions the following year.
Some gender-based abortions have been documented in parts of Asia, where there's gender bias in favor of boys and against girls. Such abortions are occurring in the United States, according to bill sponsor Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, citing university studies.
"This is a very simple decision. If you believe that a baby should be aborted just because it's a boy or just because it's a girl ... then vote against this bill," McElraft told colleagues. Three Democrats joined all Republicans present in voting for the bill, which now goes to the Senate.
Several Democratic House members criticized the measure, arguing the bill encourages ethnic discrimination and could lead to racial profiling of women of Asian heritage. Other doctors will be worried about violating the law and may decline to perform an abortion, said Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford.
"We are putting doctors in a position now questioning the motives of these women," Adams said during the debate. "I don't believe that doctors would be willing to take that kind of risk."
Rep. Ruth Samuelson, R-Mecklenburg and another bill sponsor, said racial profiling was never mentioned in creating the bill. She urged colleagues to support the bill because no one believes gender-based abortions are right.
Abortion rights and civil liberties groups have opposed the measure they say will put up new obstacles between women and their physicians. They say it's designed to discourage the right of a woman to make her own health care decisions, including those to terminate a pregnancy.
Five states have sex-selective abortion bans, according to North Carolina Right to Life. Bill sponsors provided no specific evidence that sex-selective abortions are occurring in North Carolina.
The General Assembly in 2011 passed a law over then-Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto that required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could receive an abortion to make information about abortion risks and alternatives available. A federal law struck down a provision in the law directing providers to place an ultrasound image next to a pregnant woman so she can view it.
Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, warned colleagues the new measure will likely be challenged in court if approved and could be narrowed so much by the courts that it will serve no real purpose.
"This bill will do nothing to combat what we say is a problem that really does not exist," Glazier said.
The measure says it's unlawful for anyone to perform an abortion with "knowledge, or an objective reason to know, that a significant factor" in the pregnant woman seeking the abortion is related to the sex of the unborn child. A floor amendment approved says the law would not place a duty upon a doctor to inquire whether the abortion is related to sex selection.
The woman, her spouse, parent, guardian or health care provider could sue the abortion provider. A judge could ultimately hold a doctor in contempt on violation of an injunction and fine the physician $10,000 for the first violation and $100,000 on the third and subsequent violations.