By Elise Viebeck - 05/30/12 08:50 PM EDT
Groups opposed to abortion rights are turning charges of a GOP "war on women" against Democrats who are opposed to legislation meant to ban sex-selective abortions.
Democrats hoping to grow a gender gap among female voters tilted toward their party have repeatedly hammered Republicans for engaging in a war on women over issues such as contraception rights.
In a letter Wednesday, Americans United for Life (AUL) urged House members to "stop a real war on women — sex selection abortions" by supporting the legislation from Rep. Trent FranksTrent FranksRyan treads carefully with Trump When Newt and Pence were on opposite sides House GOP defense policy bill conferees named MORE (R-Ariz.).
A Republican echoed that line on the House floor.
"This is the ultimate war on women, Mr. Speaker," Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.) said of sex-selective abortion.
"There can be no rights for women if we do not allow them the right to life."
An AUL spokeswoman said the message aims to take back rhetorical ground that has been occupied by Democrats and abortion-rights groups.
"What we're trying to do is hold the left accountable for its own rhetoric," Kristi Hamrick told The Hill.
"The 'war-on-women' language begs the question: in a war, who is dying? Sex-selective abortion kills unborn women."
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AUL's president took the point a step further in the group's letter to lawmakers.
"There is nothing pro-woman about killing a baby girl because she is female and putting her mother’s health and safety at risk in the process," wrote Charmaine Yoest.
The "war on women" charge has become a commonplace attack against Republicans this election year as controversies such as birth-control coverage and public funding for Planned Parenthood remain in the headlines.
Planned Parenthood endorsed President Obama Wednesday and launched a $1.4 million ad buy criticizing presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney for opposing abortion rights. The ads will target female votes in key swing states of Florida, Iowa and Virginia.
In a fundraising email Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee accused the GOP of "waging an unrelenting war on women." And EMILY's List, which gives money to female candidates who support abortion rights, used the phrase in its own blast email shortly after.
Republican women have dismissed the charge and called it offensive.
"To be accused of denying access to women’s health is absurd. And to be attacked for limiting opportunities for women just like us is unwarranted," Rep. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersDozens of GOP lawmakers staying away from Trump's convention GOP House leaders tout health, poverty solutions We must focus on Medicare's most vulnerable and sickest patients MORE (Wash.), the House's highest-ranking GOP woman, wrote in an op-ed May 23.
The sparring points to concern in both parties about the electoral gender gap, which remains a powerful force in American politics.
Activists who support Franks's bill argued that repackaging the "war on women" charge could help pull in women voters who feel alienated by Democrats' rhetoric.
"We're using very inclusive language here," Hamrick said.
"The concept of a war on women has been politicized in ways that do not appeal to all women. That rhetoric is going to backfire for those who have used it, politically and otherwise."
The Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, will see debate Wednesday and a vote Thursday.
Democrats and abortion-rights groups consistently denounce sex-selective abortion, which some studies allege is practiced by certain immigrant communities in the United States.
They also reject PRENDA, saying it would impede the doctor-patient relationship, encourage racial profiling and undermine Roe v. Wade, which established the right to an abortion for American women.
On its blog Wednesday, NARAL Pro-Choice America named a coalition of nearly 100 medical, civil-rights and faith-based groups that oppose Franks's bill, including the NAACP.
"Anti-choice politicians are exploiting the very real problems of sex discrimination and gender inequity to launch a sneak attack on a woman's right to choose," the blog post read.
"It's cynical and it's disgusting."
The National Women's Law Center highlighted the possibility that American women from Asian cultures would face unfair scrutiny from doctors should the bill become law.
The measure does not require healthcare providers to ask women why they want abortions, but would still "encourage, if not demand" doctors to apply ethnic cliches to patients, the group's co-president, Marcia D. Greenberger, said in a statement.
"This legislation, despite its title, actually fosters discrimination by requiring doctors to racially profile their patients," Greenberger said.
The World Health Organization has called sex-selective abortion an "increasing cause of concern" in countries such as India and China, where sons are sometimes seen as more valuable than daughters.
This week, anti-abortion-rights groups cited studies alleging that the practices has traveled to the United States with immigrants from those countries and others.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), who is of Chinese descent, has dismissed PRENDA's authors for "engaging in blatant stereotyping."
"Indian and Chinese immigrants come from all over the world, from countries with many different cultural practices," she wrote in an op-ed published in February.
"Stereotyping immigrants will only cause providers to avoid taking minorities as patients, because of the possibility of criminal liability in a decision on reproductive choice."
House GOP leadership brought the bill to the floor under suspension of the rules, which means two-thirds of the chamber will have to vote in favor Thursday for it to pass.
Normally reserved for non-controversial bills, the strategy circumvents a House GOP rule stating that no bill will be considered under suspension if it is opposed by more than one-third of the committee that reported it. Thirteen of 33 House Judiciary Committee members opposed PRENDA on Feb. 16, records show.
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) confirmed that it will note members' votes on Thursday for its abortion scorecard.
The Family Research Council will do the same, the NRLC's legislative director, Douglas Johnson, wrote in an email.
— This story was first posted at 2:36 p.m. and has been updated.