By Elise Viebeck - 05/30/12 09:40 PM EDT
The Republican author of a bill to ban sex-selective abortion called out the "Asian immigrant community" for allegedly contributing to an increase in the practice in the United States.
The remarks from Rep. Trent Franks (Ariz.) came as opponents of abortion rights seek to volley a "war on women" charge back at Democrats over the issue.
Franks went on to describe an academic study published in 2011 in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis that concluded that data on third births and beyond in U.S. Chinese, Asian Indian and Korean communities "strongly" suggests prenatal sex selection in favor of male children.
The research was conducted by staff at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, according to a copy obtained online.
Franks cited another study he said "discussed in detail the multiple forms of pressure and outright coercion" some immigrant women suffer from family members related to a cultural preference for sons.
"Sex selection abortion is extreme violence against unborn baby girls and their mothers," he said.
The World Health Organization has called sex-selective abortion an "increasing cause of concern" in countries such as India and China, which has a one-child policy.
Democrats and abortion-rights groups consistently denounce the practice but have rejected Franks's bill, H.R. 3541, saying it would impede the doctor-patient relationship, undermine Roe v. Wade and encourage racial profiling.
On Wednesday, the National Women's Law Center highlighted the possibility that American women from Asian cultures would face unfair scrutiny from doctors should the bill — known as PRENDA — 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.
Rep. Judy Chu (Calif.), a Democrat of Chinese descent, has also dismissed Franks for "engaging in blatant stereotyping" with the bill.
"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," she said.
Republicans on the House floor Wednesday mostly avoided overt mention of specific ethnicities as they voiced support for PRENDA.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) was an exception, recounting the story of a late friend he said would swim in India's Ganges river rescuing infant girls who were thrown in by their families.
"That culture has arrived here in this country," King staid. "This bill puts an end to that kind of culture that selects baby girls for death."
In response, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) called the measure an "insidious attack on Roe v. Wade" and said that supporters "are exploiting serious issues like racism and sexism" in a bid to overturn the landmark case.
A previous version of the measure included language aimed at preventing abortions based on race, but that portion was eventually removed. Many Democrats had objected to the bill's content as well as its original title, which invoked Frederick Douglass, a major figure in the early civil rights movement.
Franks said Wednesday he hopes to revisit the issue of race and abortion at a later time.
"Between 40 and 50 percent of African-American babies, nearly one in two, are killed by abortion," he said on the floor.
"I believe with all of my heart that this bill should also prohibit race-targeted abortion, as it did when the bill was first introduced," Franks said.
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. The bill is expected to fail due to Democratic opposition.
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.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he isn't certain why GOP leaders put the bill on the suspension calendar, but he also wasn't shy about offering a theory that Republicans simply want to force Democrats to vote against it twice.
"I'm not sure why they're putting in on a suspension unless they simply want two cracks at the apple – two bites at the apple," he said.
"If that's what they're doing, I think that's just a political effort, not a substantive effort. If it was a substantive effort it would have been given some additional airing."
"But you'd have to ask them why they're putting it on a suspension first," Hoyer said.
Hoyer attacked the bill on two fronts Wednesday. Practically, he warned, the proposal puts doctors in the "very untenable position" of trying to determine the purpose of the abortion – and having to trust the patient's response.
Politically, Hoyer argued that the bill is designed to make Democratic opponents appear like they support abortions for gender selection – something the Maryland Democrat rejected outright.
"This has come up because I think somebody decided politically it was a difficult place to put people in," he said. "[But] any interpretation that voting against this bill is therefore for abortions for the purposes of selecting gender would be wrong – period."
A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told The Hill that there is "no conspiracy theory" in why the office made its choice to bring the bill up under suspension.
Mike Lillis contributed.
Updated at 6:36 p.m.