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Franks bill to ban abortions based on race, gender defeated

WASHINGTON – A bill to outlaw abortions based on the fetus’ race or gender died Thursday in the House, where it failed to get the two-thirds vote it needed to pass.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, was the lead sponsor of the bill that he said was needed to address what he called the rising trend of U.S. abortions based on the sex of the fetus.

Franks said the world is “missing 200 million baby girls” as a result of such procedures, which he said also disproportionately affect minorities.

The “Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA) of 2012″ would have required that medical professionals tell authorities if they suspect a woman is pursuing an abortion based on the sex or race of her unborn child. Anyone who failed to do so, or who tried to coerce a sex-selective abortion, would have been subject to criminal prosecution and could have faced up to five years in prison.

Opponents said the bill would make health care providers responsible for a woman’s motivations, and would make it more difficult to provide abortions in neighborhoods with large minority populations because of the fear of possible criminal charges.

They also said it would have done little for gender or racial issues, as its supporters claimed.

“This bill would not have advanced women’s health and equity,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a written statement. “It would have imposed harmful restrictions on women’s health care and would interfere with the doctor/patient relationship.”

In floor debate on the measure Wednesday, some Democrats called the bill part of a Republican “war on women.”

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But in a news conference outside the Capitol just hours before the vote, Franks suggested that voting the measure down would “allow little girls to be killed before they’re born simply because they’re little girls.”

Lila Rose, president of the pro-life organization Live Action, said in the news conference that “gendercide” is a problem that happens “not just in India or China, but here” in the U.S. She called sex-selective abortion the “ultimate violence against women.”

The bill moved to the floor of the House Thursday under “suspension of the rules” – a move usually reserved for non-controversial bills that allow them to be voted on more quickly. But such bill also requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

It is unusual for an emotional issue like abortion to be considered under a suspension of the rules. A majority of the House voted yesterday in favor of the Franks bill, but the 246-168 vote was well shy of the 290 votes needed for a two-thirds majority.

In a prepared statement after the vote, Franks said he was “heartened” by the “overwhelming majority” who voted in favor of the bill and he blasted Democrats who claimed the bill was part of a war on women.

“The same Democrats who are so frequently heralded as ‘progressives’ today refused to make the United States the very last civilized nation on Earth to outlaw aborting a little girl simply for being a little girl,” his statement said.

It went on to say Thursday’s vote was “not the end, but merely the opening salvo” in the fight. Franks’ office did not respond to repeated calls, however, seeking comment on what specific steps he might take next.

It was Franks’ latest attempt to limit abortions. The staunchly pro-life Arizona congressman made headlines this month when he proposed banning abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks.

Four states already have laws against sex-selective abortion, including Arizona.

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Jerilyn Forsythe/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, and other supporters of the prenatal nondiscrimination act dismissed opponents claims that it was representative of a Republican 'war on women.'