House Set to Vote on Bill Banning Gender-Based Abortions

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill that seeks to ban sex-selection abortions in what some refer to as "the escalating war on baby girls," while some critics insist the proposed legislation discriminates against Asian-American women and exposes them to unfair scrutiny.

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC,) one of the nation's largest pro-life organizations, has been raising awareness for the issue and urging House representatives to approve the measure, called the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA, or H.R. 3541), sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks (R-Az.)

If the bill is eventually signed into law, it would be illegal for doctors to perform abortions knowing that they are sought based on the gender of the child, to accept funds, or in any way help individuals who want to have such abortions. As a federal crime, the offenses would be punishable by up to five years in federal prison.

The NRLC sent a letter on Tuesday to the House, in which it stated that "the use of abortion as a means of sex selection is a major social problem in a number of Asian countries, including China and India. There are credible estimates that 160 million women and girls are missing from the world due to sex selection, and the figure may be even higher."

The letter also noted that there was strong evidence that the practice of sex selection by abortion is increasing in the United States, especially within communities of immigrants from Asia. It pointed to a March 2011 study by researchers at the University of Connecticut, published in Prenatal Diagnosis, which concluded:

"The male to female livebirth sex ratio in the United States exceeded expected biological variation for third+ births to Chinese, Asian Indians and Koreans, strongly suggesting prenatal sex selection."

The study in question can be found on the University of Connecticut's website.

"Those lawmakers who recently have embraced contrived political rhetoric asserting that they are resisting a 'war on women' must reflect on whether they now wish to be recorded as being defenders of the escalating war on baby girls," said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson, referring to accusations some Republican leaders have faced over trying to restrict women's access to birth control and abortion.

"The fact that many abortions occur out of discrimination based on sex-selection, especially against girls, is a tragedy that U.S. Rep. Trent Frank's legislation would address. In India and China abortion of unborn girls had led to devastating gender imbalances and discrimination against women in all areas of society," Tom McClusky, Senior Vice President for Family Research Council Action (FRC Action), added Tuesday in a statement.

Some opponents of the PRENDA bill, however, have suggested that it is simply another attempt to ban abortion in the country, and instead of protecting Asian-American girls, it will actually constrict their rights.

"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," wrote Miriam Yeung, the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum.

"The supporters of this bill are not our friends on these issues. They are hypocrites: opponents of reproductive decision-making who don't care about sex discrimination. Their agenda is banning all abortions and punishing those who provide them," she added.

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