House plans vote on bill to ban sex-selective abortion

The House is set to vote Thursday on a controversial bill that aims to ban sex-selective abortions by fining or imprisoning doctors who perform them. 

Republicans must balance their need to appeal to female voters against pressure from conservatives on social issues. 

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The GOP leadership will bring the bill to the floor under suspension of House rules, which means two-thirds of the chamber will have to express support for it to pass. This is unlikely, because it would require 50 Democrats to vote in favor. 

On Tuesday, a leading abortion-rights group attacked the measure from Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksSenate spending plan boosts House moderates House briefed on anti-ISIS campaign progress Republicans rally around Sessions after Trump criticism MORE (R-Ariz.) as a “divisive” and “unworkable” approach to the problem of sex-selective abortion. 

“The Franks bill exploits the very real problems of sex discrimination and gender inequity while failing to offer any genuine solutions,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. 

The bill, known as the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), would impose criminal penalties on doctors who provide abortions known to be motivated by gender discrimination, as well as on people who coerce women into having abortions for that reason. 

It would also bar federal funding for organizations that do not comply, and require medical professionals to report when they suspect any part of the rule has been violated. 

Sex-selective abortion is an “increasing cause of concern” in some south, east and central Asian countries, where sons are seen as more valuable than daughters, according to the World Health Organization.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, abortion-rights opponents cited studies alleging that the practice is on the rise in North America. 

“It is to be hoped that even many members who deem themselves ‘pro-choice’ will recoil at the notion that ‘freedom of choice’ must include even the choice to abort a little unborn girl, merely because she is a girl,” the National Right to Life Committee wrote in a letter to lawmakers urging votes in favor of PRENDA. 

The group’s legislative director further sought to frame the issue as a matter of protecting women against coercion and unborn fetuses from sex discrimination. 

“This particular bill puts in the spotlight a systematic and egregious form of violence against women and their daughters,” Douglas Johnson told The Hill. 

Johnson added that he is lobbying “every member who might be moved” to support the measure, including Democrats. 

Abortion-rights groups called foul. 

“By putting abortion providers at risk for criminal prosecution and incarceration, this bill attempts to intimidate medical professionals from providing care and from having the vitally important open and honest conversations they must have with their patients,” said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, in a statement. 

“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to make abortion care less accessible while misleading the public about the bill’s true intent,” she said. 

Republicans have been attempting to narrow a persistent electoral gender gap as November draws nearer.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that among women President Obama has a 7-point advantage over likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who was behind by 19 points in April. 

Democrats have consistently accused Republicans of perpetuating a “war on women” ahead of the election — a refrain that gained traction as religious conservatives objected to the Obama administration’s mandate that insurance plans cover birth control without a copay. 

Martin Gold, a partner at Covington and Burling LLP, said the GOP leadership’s choice to bring the Franks bill to a vote under suspension of the rules ensures a “symbolic vote.” 

“They can have their abortion vote and avoid amendments, avoid a recommittal motion, avoid the attendant publicity,” he said.

A Democratic aide noted that the House Republican Conference is breaking its own rules, which mandate that no bill will be considered under suspension if it was “opposed by more than one-third” of the committee that reported it.

On Feb. 16, 13 of 33 House Judiciary Committee members opposed PRENDA, which originally included language that aimed to ban race discrimination in abortion, as well as sex discrimination.