House Republicans are teeing up a vote Thursday on legislation aimed at criminalizing abortions on the basis of the unborn child’s gender.
Opponents take no issue with the goal of the bill but argue its real purpose is to further the broader anti-abortion cause.
“Nobody that I know — nobody that I’ve ever talked to — is for abortions for the purposes of gender selection, period,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Tuesday at his weekly press briefing. “Having said that, as a practical matter, the proponents of this bill are against abortion. … It’s not a question of the purpose of the abortion. They’re against abortion.”
The Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (or PRENDA), spearheaded by noted anti-abortion advocate Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), would subject doctors to a fine and imprison them for up to five years if they knowingly perform a sex-selective abortion. It would also require medical professionals to “report known or suspected violations” or otherwise face fines and up to one year in prison.
“Sex selection is violence against women, and it’s the truest kind of a war against women,” Franks said on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.
The political endgame is hard not to see. Republican leadership opted to bring up the bill under suspension of House rules, a move typically reserved for non-controversial bills, which requires a two-thirds majority to pass. House Republicans won’t have the votes even if they’re all on board, and if Democrats don’t help push it over the top, it gives the GOP a chance to hang Democrats with their votes and claim they’re sympathetic to gender-based abortions.
“I think it has come up because somebody decided politically it was a difficult place to put people in,” said Hoyer. “Any interpretation that voting against this bill [means the lawmaker] is therefore for abortions for the purposes of selecting gender would be wrong.”
Data suggests that gender-based abortions, while a huge problem in countries like China and India, are not prevalent in the United States. The U.S. has a male-to-female ratio of 1.05-to-1, according to the CIA World Factbook, which the National Academy of Sciences calls the “biological norm.”
As the National Right to Life Committee and other anti-abortion groups are pushing lawmakers to vote for the bill, dozens of medical, civil rights and abortion-rights groups are opposed.
In a statement on his website, Franks describes his bill as “an issue upon which all Americans should be able to find agreement, regardless of our party affiliations or even our beliefs about abortion.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.