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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 05/30/2012

House to begin debate Wednesday on bill banning abortions based on sex of child


Anti-abortion protesters pray and march outside the U.S. Supreme Court in March. (MLADEN ANTONOV - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
(An earlier version of this post said the House planned to vote on the bill Wednesday. House Republicans now plan to hold the vote on Thursday. This version has been corrected.)

The House plans to begin debate Wednesday on a bill that would ban abortions based on the sex of a child — and the measure may fail because of the way Republicans plan to bring the measure for a vote.

The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) would punish doctors with up to five years in prison for performing abortions because the parents are seeking a child of the other sex. Republican supporters cast the bill as a measure designed to protect the civil rights of unborn children — especially babies born to minority parents. As the bill was drafted, Democrats accused Republicans of disingenuously tying the issue to the legacy of civil rights leaders.

In a statement, the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) noted that “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.”

The National Right to Life Committee, a staunch abortion opponent, said the bill is necessary to combat the growing trend of “sex selection abortions,” especially in Asian communities in the United States. The group noted that the practice is popular in some Asian countries, where parents prefer to give birth to boys.

The NRLC charged in a statement Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers who accuse Republicans of waging a “war on women” should consider “whether they wish to be recorded as being defenders of the escalating war on baby girls.”

But Democrats say the bill could unfairly target minority women seeking abortions, because doctors may suspect they are trying to abort a fetus because of its sex.

“The bill would require doctors to police their patients, undermining patient-doctor privilege,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said in a statement. “It limits a woman’s right to choose and jeopardizes her access to safe, legal medical care.”

Conyers, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee, fought GOP attempts to name the bill after Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass, arguing that doing so disrespected their legacies. Republicans said that the civil rights leaders would have backed the bill, but later relented and agreed to change its name.

House GOP leaders plan to bring up the bill under a suspension of normal rules and a vote on the measure is expected Thursday, aides said. The strategy of bringing up a bill under suspension of normal rules of order is usually reserved for less controversial bills and means the bill will need two-thirds of lawmakers to vote in support — a threshold that could prove difficult. While virtually all Republicans are expected to vote for the bill, along with some moderate Democrats, other Democrats are expected to vote against it because Republicans have previously promised not to bring up controversial measures under suspension of normal rules.

In addition to the abortion measure, the House is set to vote Wednesday on a Republican-backed version of a bill reauthorizing a user fee program used by the Food and Drug Administration to charge drug companies for expedited safety reviews of new medicine and medical products. The Senate passed a bipartisan version of the bill last week, and GOP leaders expect a final compromise version will be ready for a final vote by early July.

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By  |  06:00 AM ET, 05/30/2012

 
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