Oral Testimony of Dr. Charmaine Yoest before the Missouri House Health Care Policy Committee On House Bill 1933: Abortion Ban for Sex Selection and Genetic Abnormalities Act of 2012
May 2, 2012
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:
I am Dr. Charmaine Yoest, President and CEO of Americans United for Life, the first national pro-life organization in the United States. AUL is a nonprofit, public-interest law and policy organization whose vision is a nation in which everyone is welcomed in life and protected in law. Our legal and policy experts are currently assisting legislators and allies in 32 states to enact commonsense, legally defensible laws that protect women and unborn children from the harms inherent in abortion.
I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the importance of House Bill 1933. Importantly, House Bill 1933 serves essential public interests by prohibiting both sex-selection abortion and abortion for Down syndrome and other genetic abnormalities.
As you are aware, sex-selection abortion is an abortion undertaken for purposes of eliminating an unborn child of an undesired sex—usually female. It is described by scholars and civil rights advocates as an act of gender-based violence. Obviously, there are strong public policy reasons for banning such gender-based violence.
First, prohibiting sex-selection abortion affirms a policy of nondiscrimination. It is undisputed that women are a vital part of American society, possessing the same inherent human and civil rights as men. Indeed, federal and state laws prohibit the dissimilar treatment of males and females who are similarly situated, as well as sex discrimination in various contexts, including the provision of employment, education, housing, health insurance coverage, and even athletics. Yet, similar protection is not currently afforded to unborn female children in Missouri. Allowing sex-selection abortion reinforces sex discrimination and has no place in civilized society.
Second, prohibiting sex-selection abortion is necessary to eliminate the drastic effects such abortions have on society. In 2011, author Mara Hvistendahl reported in her book, Unnatural Selection, that 163 million girls are missing in the world because of sex-selection abortions. The problem is so severe in some countries that, in 2005, the United Nations Population Fund termed the practice “female infanticide.”
Sex-selection abortion results in an unnatural sex-ratio imbalance. Experts worldwide document that a significant sex-ratio imbalance in which males numerically predominate can be a cause of increased violence and militancy within society. Likewise, an unnatural sex-ratio imbalance gives rise to the commoditization of humans in the form of human trafficking, and consequent increases in kidnapping and other violent crime.
Third, Americans oppose sex-selection abortion. In a March 2006 Zogby International poll, 86 percent of Americans agreed that sex-selection abortion should be illegal. Likewise, the American medical community opposes sex-selection abortion. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has stated that sex selection is inappropriate for family planning because sex selection “ultimately supports sexist practices.” Likewise, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has opined that sex selection for family planning purposes is ethically problematic, inappropriate, and should be discouraged.
Finally, the lack of legal protection in this area underscores the need to Missouri to enact such a prohibition. Currently, only four states—Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania—maintain prohibitions on sex-selection abortion. Importantly, none of these laws have ever been challenged in court.
Down Syndrome/Genetic Abnormalities
Turning to the issue of abortion for Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities, I want to emphasize a few points.
Various studies have found that between 70 to 100 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome or a genetic abnormality are aborted. This is a devastating percentage, as persons with Down syndrome contribute to American culture and are a valuable part of our society. Many persons with Down syndrome are able to maintain employment, obtain an education, and live with varying degrees of independence. As technology advances and as medical treatments and educational methods improve, persons with Down syndrome will increasingly be self-dependent and productive citizens.
Likewise, persons born with genetic abnormalities contribute to American culture and are a valuable part of our society. There are 4,000 known genetic abnormalities and these abnormalities manifest in varying ways and degrees. Many persons with such abnormalities are able to support themselves financially, obtain an education, or live independently. Further, as technology advances and educational methods improve, many will increasingly become self-dependent.
Most importantly, persons born with Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities possess the same fundamental rights as all other human beings, but they are being disproportionately targeted in the womb—and oftentimes based upon inaccurate medical data.
Like a ban on sex-selection abortion, a ban on abortion performed solely because a child has Down syndrome or a genetic abnormality affirms a policy of nondiscrimination. State and federal law prohibit discrimination against persons with Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities. Unfortunately, the same protection is not currently afforded to such persons before they are born. Missouri’s policy of nondiscrimination will be advanced by prohibiting the abortion of children with Down syndrome or genetic abnormalities.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the committee for allowing me to testify on behalf of this important bill. HB 1933 fulfills a vital societal goal: treating women and persons with disabilities with respect and dignity.