Iowa's five representatives split on party lines as the U.S. House failed yesterday to pass a bill that would ban abortions performed in order to select a preferred gender.
The goal behind the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) is to deter abortion providers from terminating pregnancies because of the mother's gender preference. Doctors could be fined or sentenced to prison for performing sex-selection abortions.
Is gender preference a common reason for abortions in the U.S.? The evidence is scant, according to Sneha Barot's article for the Guttmacher Policy Review, republished at RH Reality Check. I highly recommend reading her whole piece, but here's an excerpt:
A broad spectrum of civil rights groups and reproductive rights and justice organizations stand united in opposition to these proposed abortion bans as both unenforceable and unwise. Advocates for the welfare of Asian American women are particularly adamant in protesting that such laws have the potential to do much harm and no good for their communities. Moreover, they argue that proposals to ban sex-selective abortion proffered by those who would ban all abortions are little more than a cynical political ploy and that the real problem that needs to be addressed is son preference-itself a deeply seated and complex manifestation of entrenched gender discrimination and inequity. [...]
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) originally introduced the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) in 2008, and reintroduced it in 2011, as chairman of the Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution. In the interim, bills to outlaw sex-selective abortion were introduced in 13 states and enacted in two: Oklahoma and Arizona.
The "findings" included by Rep. Franks in the preamble of his bill rely on international evidence of sex selection because U.S. data on the subject are both limited and inconclusive. What is conclusively known is that the U.S. sex ratio at birth in 2005 stood at 105 boys to 100 girls, squarely within biologically normal parameters.12 Beyond that salient fact, two studies using 2000 U.S. census data to examine sex ratios among Chinese-, Indian- and Korean-American families found that although the ratio for first-born children in such families was normal, there was evidence of son preference in second- and third-order births, if the older children were daughters.13,14 Notably, the authors do not pinpoint the cause of the disparate ratios-whether prepregnancy techniques involving fertility treatments or sex-selective abortions. In addition, they comment that these three ethnic communities constitute a very small proportion-less than 2%-of the U.S. population.13 A third analysis that supporters of PRENDA rely on is a small-scale qualitative study involving interviews with 65 immigrant Indian women who practiced sex selection, either before pregnancy or during pregnancy through an abortion.15 Many of these women spoke of the social and cultural basis for son preference and the intense pressure faced by women in their communities to produce sons.
Abortion providers are not mind-readers. How are they supposed to know why a woman wants to terminate a pregnancy? Miriam Yeung of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, Jessica González-Rojas of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt of the Black Women's Health Imperative discussed this aspect of PRENDA.
If this bill becomes law, a doctor or nurse who suspects that a patient is seeking a sex-selective abortion would be required to report her to authorities. Doctors who perform such a procedure could face jail time, fines, or lawsuits from a patient or her family.
This bill means that all women -- and to be clear, particularly Asian American women -- who seek an abortion could face new, intense scrutiny. In particular, given the issue of sex selection in Asian countries, any woman who appears to be Asian American risks intense questioning about the decision she has made to seek an abortion. The bill also targets providers and makes it more difficult to provide reproductive health care including abortion.
No woman should ever be scrutinized or interrogated by her doctor, but this is exactly what would happen if this bill becomes law. Given the risks to providers, even the decision to find out the sex of a child during a wanted pregnancy may become suspect.
Yesterday's roll call shows majority support for PRENDA in the U.S. House. All but seven House Republicans present voted for the bill, joined by 20 Democrats. However, the bill still failed to pass, because it was brought to the floor under a suspension of the rules. Using that procedure means a bill needs a two-thirds majority to be approved.
Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) all voted against PRENDA. Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) supported the bill.
King was the only House member from Iowa to issue a statement on yesterday's vote. Like many anti-choice organizations and politicians, he framed the issue as a true "war on women" (emphasis in original).
King: If There is a War on Women...
Washington, DC - Congressman Steve King released the following statement after the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) failed by a vote of 246 in favor and 168 opposed. A two-thirds majority was required for passage because PRENDA was brought to the floor under suspension of the rules, but not enough Democrats joined Republicans to reach this super-majority standard. A bill brought up under regular order requires a simple majority of Members voting to pass. Minutes before the House voted on PRENDA, Democrats forced an unrelated procedural vote concerning women's pay.
"While Democrats were conducting 'procedural shenanigans' with a routine previous question vote aimed at painting Republicans as anti-women, only 20 Democrats joined Republicans to stop sex selection abortions and protect innocent baby girls," King said. "If there is a 'war on women,' as President Obama asserts, where are Democrats when it's time to protect the most defenseless of all women - baby girls? I'm looking forward to House action allowing the pro-life majority to protect baby girls by passing PRENDA under regular order."
I wonder why King sent a staffer from his office, Scott Corrie, to the state dinner for Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping in Des Moines a few months ago. China is the undisputed sex-selection abortion capital of the world, partly because of the country's one-child policy. In fairness to King, the whole Iowa "pro-life" community passed up the opportunity to denounce China's abortion policies during Xi's visit.
King sounds confident that House leaders will bring PRENDA to the floor again. Pete Kasperowicz's report for The Hill suggests that's far from a sure thing.
Suspension votes are normally used for noncontroversial bills, but the GOP-backed measure was clearly controversial. Republicans have occasionally put controversial bills on the suspension calendar in order to highlight that Democrats oppose certain policies.
In some cases, Republicans have rescheduled these bills for regular consideration after they have failed, allowing for passage by a simple majority. But Republicans gave no sign that they would try again with PRENDA.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that the issue of stopping sex-selective abortion is important enough that they would try again, but he was not specific.
Final note: while preference for biological sons is traditional in some communities, research has shown that adopting parents in the U.S. are more inclined to choose girls.