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Sex-Selection Abortion Debate Drowned Out by 'War on Women' Rhetoric
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Sex-Selection Abortion Debate Drowned Out by 'War on Women' Rhetoric

The House of Representatives failed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA). The bill originally would have banned abortions based on the race or gender of the child. PRENDA should have easily passed through the Republican-led House, but it was derailed by partisan politics and the debate du jour over the "war on women."

PRENDA was on track for certain (albeit partisan) passage by the House. Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) sponsored PRENDA to make it illegal for women to have an abortion because of either the race or sex of the child. The bill had 98 cosponsors. But just as the Judiciary Committee was finalizing the bill, Democrats began accusing Republicans of waging a "war on women." Debates over contraception, state legislative fights over ultrasound bills, and Rush Limbaugh's ad hominem attack on Sandra Fluke gave resonance to Democratic charges at the same time that PRENDA was approved by the Judiciary Committee and reported to the House.

Last week, the Republican leadership announced that PRENDA would come up for a vote. But there was an important catch. The bill would no longer include a ban on race-based abortion, and it would be considered under a suspension of the rules. Suspension is a procedure designed for noncontroversial legislation: Time for debate is limited, and a two-thirds majority is required for passage. According to Republican rules, PRENDA did not qualify for suspension because more than one-third of the Judiciary Committee voted against the bill. But the Republican leadership used its prerogative to waive this rule and bring the bill up for a suspension vote. The leadership, however, said that PRENDA had to be amended so that it was about only sex-based abortion, not race.

Franks said on the House floor that he believed that race should have remained in the bill.

"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. "It is my hope that by protecting unborn children from being aborted based on their sex that one day very soon we will also recognize the humanity and justice of protecting unborn children regardless of their race or color as well, and simply because we recognize them as fellow human beings."

Franks told the Christian Post that the suspension of the rules procedure was used to limit tactics by opponents.

"In part, it's so that the really left-wing pro-abortion groups cannot demagogue the issue and make it something else than it really is," Franks said. "They can't add false amendments. They can't add a motion to recommit which hides the issue. They simply have to vote yes or no."

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) voted against the bill because he favored a complete ban on abortion, not a bill that singled out the reason for it. On his Facebook page, Amash questioned why the bill was considered under suspension.

"It's interesting that Republican leadership put this bill on the suspension calendar, which means it needed a two-thirds majority to pass rather than a simple majority. Republicans did this knowing that it would get a simple majority but not a two-thirds majority," Amash said.

A planned failure?

Steven Ertelt, founder of LifeNews.Com tweeted Thursday that the suspension procedure was used, in part, for partisan purposes. In addition to the procedural advantages (fast track and ability to vote on it again later), suspension also was used to "hang on Democrats when they defeat it" and "to expose Dems."

Suspension allows Republicans to blame Democrats for PRENDA's failure, something that would not have happened under a simple majority. The final vote of 246 to 168 would normally have been enough to pass PRENDA, but the bill failed to cross the two-thirds threshold. Twenty Democrats voted for the bill; seven Republicans voted against it.

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