The House will vote this week on legislation imposing criminal penalties on anyone performing an abortion based on the sex of the child, but the measure runs the risk of failing on the floor because of how the GOP is calling it up.
Republican leaders have scheduled a vote on H.R. 3541, the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), under a suspension of House rules, which will require a two-thirds majority vote for passage. Suspension votes are usually reserved for non-controversial bills, but Republican leaders have occasionally used the process for bills that Democrats oppose, and the PRENDA bill appears to be one of those.
Democratic opposition to the bill began with its original name, the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-discrimination Act. Democrats argued in February that while the bill was named after these civil rights heroes, it has nothing to do with protecting civil rights. "It is offensive that the sponsors of this bill would invoke the names of two of our nation's historic civil rights pioneers," House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) said. The original name reflected that the bill also sought to ban abortions based on the race of the child, but took out that language in committee. Republicans agreed to strike that language in the Judiciary committee, and also changed the name of the bill.
Still, the bill was voted out of committee with only Republican support. That partisan vote, and Democrats' ongoing opposition to the bill, could make it difficult for the bill to be approved by a two-thirds vote on the floor. Roughly 50 Democrats would need to join Republicans to pass the bill under suspension of the rules. Democrats point out that the suspension vote violates the Republicans' own rules, which say they will not schedule bills for consideration under a suspension of the rules if they are opposed by more than one-third of committee members. The Judiciary Committee approved the bill 20-13, with all Democrats voting against.
Despite the changes in committee, Democrats argue that the bill looks to erect new hurdles to women's right to abortion. The legislation looks to ensure there are no gender-based abortions by authorizing fines and prison terms of up to five years against doctors who perform these abortions, and requires health professionals to report suspected violations of the law. "This legislation violates a woman's right to privacy as affirmed by the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade," Conyers said after the committee approved the legislation. "The bill would require doctors to police their patients, undermining patient-doctor privilege. It limits a woman's right to choose and jeopardizes her access to safe, legal medical care."
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said when he introduced the bill that his aim is to ensure equal rights for unborn children. In December, his office put out a statement saying, "A minority baby is currently five times more likely to be aborted than a white baby, and nearly half of all black babies are aborted, with over 70 percent of abortion clinics being located in predominantly minority neighborhoods. "Our innate sense of human fairness should make it abundantly clear that aborting a little baby because he or she happens to be black or because he or she has been arbitrarily deemed 'lesser' is fundamentally wrong," Franks said.