WASHINGTON-Conservative lawmakers in the House of Representatives this week are making a push to ban abortions based on the gender or race of unborn babies.
The Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011, authored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., would make it a criminal and civil offense to perform abortions for sex- or race- selection reasons. While women who seek such abortions would not be jailed, those who coerce women into getting such abortions could face up to five years in prison.
"Today in America, 40 to 50 percent of all African-American babies, virtually one in two, are killed before they are born," Franks said at a hearing this week on the legislation, "which is a greater cause of death for African-Americans than heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, and violence combined."
Sex-selection abortions have long been an international problem. The Economist recently reported on the role that sex-selection abortion plays in son preference. The magazine called it "gendercide" and argued that "the cumulative consequence for societies of such individual actions is catastrophic."
Steven Aden, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund added that "the United States is far from immune to this problem."
Aden cited a 2008 study by Columbia University economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund that examined the sex ratio at birth among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian-Indian parents. They found "deviation in favor of sons" and "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage," especially among second and third pregnancies if the first child was not born male.
At Tuesday's House hearing on the legislation, Steven Mosher, the president of Population Research Institute, said 89 percent of immigrant Indian women participating in a recent study had aborted girls. Nearly half of those had aborted more than one girl.
"These women told … of how they were the victims of family violence; how their husbands or in-laws had shoved them around, kicked them in the abdomen, or denied them food, water, rest in an attempt to make them miscarry the girls they were carrying," he said.
At the House hearing, opponents claimed that Franks' bill discriminates against women.
"Their true motivation behind this bill is not equal rights, but rather a restriction of women's rights," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.
But Mosher argued that "sex-selective abortion is rightly seen by many as the ultimate form of discrimination against women."
Franks, whose bill currently has 60 co-sponsors, sees this issue as "the civil rights struggle that will define our generation."
But passage in just the House will likely be the best prospect for his bill. Although the Democrat-controlled Senate will likely ignore Franks' legislation, conservatives hope that debate over the bill will increase national awareness of the issue.
"This is a tragedy that should assault the mind and conscience of every American," Franks said.