Selective-Sex Abortion Bill Re-Ignites Women's Rights Debate

While gender-based abortions are prevalent in Asia, an Ariz. Rep. says sex-selective abortions are rampant in the U.S.

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Arizona Rep. Trent Franks believes that one of the most dangerous phrases in the United States today is "It's a Girl."

The House of Representatives will vote Thursday on the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, which would make it illegal for women to abort a pregnancy on the basis on gender. The law specifically targets doctors who knowingly perform gender-motivated abortions or those who coerce a woman into getting a sex-selected abortion.

[Susan Milligan: Why Is It Only Women Who Need 'Informing' on Reproductive Health?]

While abortions based on gender have been well documented in India and China, Franks says sex-selective abortions are rampant in our own backyard.

"This bill says that you cannot abort a little baby just because it is not the sex you wanted," Franks said during a press conference Thursday. "It represents an effort to address what has become a war on unborn little girls, and today is the day we hope that history will begin to take a better direction."

In a year wrought with debates over contraception, women's health, violence against women, and equal wages for all, the bill has again brought women's rights to the forefront of the 2012 election cycle. But this time, Republicans want to paint the Democrats as the aggressors.

"If there is a war on women, this is the presumptive strike," Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Kelly said during a press conference Thursday.

President Obama stepped in Wednesday and opposed the bill, which House Republicans were eager to criticize.

"It is inconceivable to me how our Nobel Prize-winning president can refuse to protect little girls from the violence of sex-selection abortion," New Jersey Rep. Christopher Smith said.

But while Republicans vow that the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act protects women, Democrats argue that it is just the latest attempt by Republicans to restrict a woman's right to choose.

"It is about as cynical and deceptive as anything I have seen on the floor," says Washington Rep. Jim McDermott. "This bill is not what it claims to be."

Democrats insisted Wednesday during debate on the floor that the bill would violate doctor-patient privilege and be impossible to enforce.

"It would require doctors to become mind readers,"says Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson. "It is ridiculous, it is shameful."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

Franks cited multiple reports, studies, and articles that documented gender-based abortion trends in the U.S. to build support for the legislation, which will require a two-thirds majority to pass.

Live Action, a pro-life group, has also been entrenched in the debate. The group has released videos documenting incidences of abortion clinics willing to conduct gender specific abortions in the days leading up to the vote.

The Guttmacher Insititute, a policy institute that works on issues related to reproductive health, published a report Wednesday, however, pointing out how uncommon sex-selective abortions are in the United States.

Researcher Sneha Barot underscores that in parts of Asia where boys are the preferred sex, evidence of sex-selective abortions is widespread. But Barot says there is no evidence supporting the notion that the United States has suddenly become a hot bed for what House Republicans are calling "gendercide."

In the United States, there are 1.05 males for every one female, which Barot says is well within the realm of biological possibility.

Barot argues that the new law targets Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans in the U.S. and could lead to possible racial profiling in abortion clinics throughout the country,

"There is no evidence to show that the issue is rising," Barot says. "In fact, there may be evidence to show the contrary."

Even if the bill does not pass the House of Representatives Thursday, Franks promises to keep pressing the issue.

"Sometimes the first round of a fight doesn't always mean the fight's over," Franks said. "We understand its an ambitious goal to gain that many votes, but it is also a vote that disallows amendments, disallows a motion to recommit. So when people go up to vote on this, the world will know where they really stand on sex-selection abortion."

Update: The House of Representatives failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act Thursday. Representatives voted 246 to 168 in favor of passing the bill, but were 30 votes shy of what they needed to pass the bill under the suspension of House rules.