Legislators push to ban sex-selection abortions, human cloning

Editor’s note: This story is part of a six-part series covering bills that have previously failed in the state Legislature but are still reintroduced year after year.

In recent years, advances in the science world have changed the conversation in the state Legislature. Largely partisan issues such as abortion and stem cell research are being met with proposals that tackle them from fresh angles. One such proposal, the sex-selection abortions prohibition, seeks to outlaw abortions when performed on the basis of the unborn childâÄôs gender. Another bill, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2009, seeks to ban human cloning, including embryonic clones to be used in stem cell research. Both bills have been awaiting deliberation in committees since their introduction in early March. However, since neither is scheduled for a hearing, the odds of them passing during the current legislative session are slim.

The duplication debate

When Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, learned of the health problems experienced by Dolly, a cloned sheep, it inspired him to author a House bill that seeks to ban cloning in humans. âÄúItâÄôs ethically irresponsible and potentially dangerous when we get to an animal like the human being where intellect and mood are important,âÄù he said. Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, chief author of the Senate version of the bill, said although he doesnâÄôt see human cloning as a major issue yet, he hopes the bill will deal with the moral and ethical implications ahead of time. âÄúI think with all the restrictions being lifted on the cells, that it may increase the demand for stem cells,âÄù he said. âÄúIf weâÄôre going to get stem cells from cloning embryos, then I donâÄôt think itâÄôs appropriate.âÄù Human cloning is a relatively new discussion in the state Legislature. It appeared previously in a 2008 bill vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty that would have used state money to fund stem cell research in addition to banning human cloning. Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, a co-author of the bill, said he has opposed human cloning since he began his career in the House 11 years ago. âÄúTo create another human being for the sole purpose of becoming a used parts store âÄî that to me is whatâÄôs reprehensible,âÄù he said. Attempts to ban human cloning have been introduced at the national level and ultimately denied nearly every session since 1997. Most recently, the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2009 was introduced to the U.S. Congress in January, and is currently in the committee process. Vandeveer and Smith agreed that although the human cloning ban probably wonâÄôt pass this session, they will likely reintroduce it in the future. âÄúThere are some people who believe that we can do anything weâÄôd like if we achieve a medical advancement,âÄù Vandeveer said. âÄúBut I think we have to maintain our moral and ethical standards at the same time and view our actions in light of those.âÄù

New approach to old argument

Since 2005, U.S. consumers have had the option of learning their babyâÄôs gender within five weeks of conception. Given the newness of this innovation, the current bill to prohibit sex-selection abortions is the first of its kind in the state Legislature. Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, a co-author of the sex-selection abortions prohibition, said although he is not sure how oneâÄôs motivations for requesting an abortion would be proven, he supports the measure. âÄúIt just seems like we shouldnâÄôt be going ahead with abortions simply because someone doesnâÄôt want to have a boy or a girl,âÄù he said. The issue of sex-selection abortions is also being discussed at the national level. In September, Republican legislators fought unsuccessfully to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which sought to outlaw sex and race-related abortions. In a statement promoting the bill, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona , wrote that although the United States condemns China and others for practicing sex-selection abortions, our own laws fail to prohibit such activity. Evidence gathered in a March 2008 Columbia University study suggests high rates of male-biased sex selection in the United States, likely occurring at the prenatal stage, among U.S-born Indian, Chinese and Korean couples. The trend, researchers observed, has occurred only recently. Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, a co-author of the bill, said gender-based abortions are being performed all over the world, usually because the couples want a male. The issue of abortion is hardly a new discussion in the state Legislature. Despite the large number of bills introduced, few make it through the committee process in either chamber. In fact, no bill pertaining to abortion has passed out of committee since the 2005-2006 legislative session. During that session, a total of 21 bills were offered. Of those, a 2005 bill was passed that gives grants to organizations that provide alternative services to abortion, such as counseling, medical care, housing and adoption services for women who choose to continue with their pregnancies. So far this year, seven other bills on the subject have been introduced into the Legislature, but none of them have been voted through committees. In 2003, the state passed the WomanâÄôs Right to Know Act , requiring physicians to provide certain information to women, including complications associated with the procedure and alternatives, 24 hours prior to performing an abortion. Abeler said he hopes a ban on sex-selection abortions will create middle ground on an issue of strong divisions.