Since 1973, when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, state legislators have attempted to reconcile their desire to restrict the practice of abortion with the Supreme Court's requirement to make abortion legal. This contest between national and local interests fuels an intense debate centering on the legal and moral legitimacy of terminating a pregnancy.Nowhere is this tension more relevant right now than in North Carolina, where a new bill could make doctors financially liable for knowingly performing gender-based abortions. If House Bill 716 becomes law, practitioners could face fines of up to $100,000 if the patient’s parents, guardians, or doctor suspects that the sex of the unborn child influenced the abortion.
I equate the rising tide of pro-life legislation with the oppressive initiatives of Southern lawmakers during Reconstruction. After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment technically guaranteed suffrage to freed male slaves, but voter intimidation and legal maneuvering at the state level rendered federal law ineffective by keeping blacks and poor whites disenfranchised. The current state-level measures to restrict access to abortion are nothing more than the modern-day version of poll taxes and literacy tests.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ruth Samuel, a high-ranking Republican, says its purpose is to end gender discrimination. Unfortunately, HB 716 does the exact opposite. When you give a third party a legal and financial stake in a woman’s womb, you essentially deny that woman's ownership of her own body. The idea that a woman’s body is someone else’s property, or investment, is common in developing countries where women have limited rights. In the parts of Africa where women are subject to genital mutilation, the parts of South Asia where brides are burned alive, and in places all over the world where women are systematically raped, beaten, and forced to have children, this is the dominant belief — that a woman’s body is not her own.
Not only is HB 716 frankly sexist, it violates the spirit of the Roe v. Wade decision which at the time was a legal means of protecting abortion practitioners. If HB 716 becomes law, OB/GYNs who are already saddled with exorbitant malpractice fees, will have to interrogate patients for fear of future liability. The vaguely worded law would present endless opportunities for frivolous lawsuits, get-rich-quick schemes, and for special-interest groups to sue on behalf of women. Inevitably, some practitioners would choose not to perform abortions at all.
It is disheartening that in certain regions of the world, places where sons are more prized than daughters, sex-selective abortions are the norm. A study of the 2000 Census even suggests that a number of Asian immigrants continue to follow this tradition in the United States. With that being said, Rep. Samuel offers no evidence that fetus gender-discrimination is a significant problem in her state. To the contrary, most abortions occur before the mother is even aware of the sex.
If we are to uphold Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to privacy, then it should not matter why a woman aborts a fetus, even if the decision is based on gender.