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Roll Call

War for Women Takes House

GOP Vies for Vote, Introduces Bill to Ban Sex-Selective Abortion

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (left) attended a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee hearing on Rep. Rosa Delauro’s pay equity legislation on Wednesday.

As both parties vie for the all-important female vote, the trench warfare on issues affecting women will continue this week as the House votes on a GOP-sponsored abortion bill and Democrats push pay equity legislation.

Despite rhetorical wars over working women vs. stay-at-home mothers and legislative battles over the Violence Against Women Act, it’s unclear whether either side is making any political gains, but that doesn’t mean they won’t keep trying.

With a traditional advantage among women, Democrats have largely been the aggressors thus far on the issue, attacking the Republican version of VAWA, for instance.

But Republicans have upped the ante by bringing to the floor a bill to ban sex-selective abortion.

The legislation, first introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) three years ago, would punish doctors with up to five years in prison for performing an abortion if the doctor knows it “is sought based on the sex or gender of the child.” Females are often the targets of sex-
selective abortions throughout the world, and Republicans appear to be trying to both give their base a red-meat issue and burnish their bona fides on sex discrimination.

Franks argued passionately for the merits of his bill, comparing abortion to American slavery and the Holocaust. But he also predicted it would be a political winner, as were GOP bills to ban late-term abortions.

“If [President Barack Obama] wants to say he favors allowing little girls to be aborted because they’re little girls, I suppose that’s his political prerogative. But I think the last thing the president wants to do is to let the American people know where he really is on this issue of life and death for the innocent,” Franks said.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he thinks the vote is coming for political, rather than substantive, reasons, adding that “nobody that I know, nobody that I’ve every talked to, is for abortions for the purposes of gender selection. Period.”

“This is coming up because somebody decided that, politically, this is a difficult place to put people in. Any interpretation [that anyone] voting against this bill is therefore for abortions for the purpose of selecting gender would be wrong,” he said. Many Democrats are apt to oppose it because they believe it puts doctors in a difficult position and is an attempt to erode
women’s abortion rights.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said, “This [is] yet another distraction and yet another day that this Republican majority fails to act on job creation.”

The Economist reported in March 2010 that gender-selected abortion is a major problem in China and India, with more than 100 million abortions performed for that reason, but also that “even [in] sections of America’s population,” some sex-selective abortion might be taking place.

Live Action, an anti-abortion-rights group, released a video this week of an undercover activist posing as a pregnant woman at a Planned Parenthood clinic discussing obtaining an abortion “if it’s a girl.”

Planned Parenthood said in a statement that it fired the worker that appears in the tape within three days of the interaction, six weeks before Live Action released an edited version of the tape. The women’s health organization, which also supports abortion rights, stated: “Planned Parenthood condemns sex selection motivated by gender bias, and urges leaders to challenge the underlying conditions that lead to these beliefs and practices. ... The world’s leading women’s health and rights organizations, including the World Health Organization, do not believe that curtailing access to abortion services is a legitimate means of addressing sex selection, and have made clear that gender bias can only be resolved by addressing the underlying conditions that lead to it.”

Abortion is sure to be a topic in the November contest between Obama and his GOP presidential rival, Mitt Romney. In a recent New York magazine interview, David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Obama, blasted a would-be Romney administration by predicting that “potentially abortion will be criminalized. Women will be denied contraceptive services. He’s far right on immigration. He supports efforts to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage.”

As the House prepared to vote Wednesday evening on that bill, Democrats held a Steering and Policy Committee hearing about a pay equity bill introduced by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.).

The legislation, called the Paycheck Fairness Act, would strengthen a series of regulations and make it easier for women to sue over pay discrimination, including for punitive damages. Senate Democrats have scheduled a test vote on a similar bill next week.

“Women — now one-half of the workforce — are still making only 77 cents on the dollar as compared to men,” DeLauro said.

During the hearing, Democrats repeatedly focused on not just the issue of “fairness,” but on the idea that pay discrimination results in less pay for some female workers, hurting their families.

The witnesses for the hearing included Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of “Nickel and Dimed,” as well as two women who said they experienced pay discrimination and worked for years to be paid the same as male peers.

A House GOP leadership aide downplayed the chances of action on the bill. “That legislation passed the House years ago, only to die in the Senate. If Senators ... want to try to bring it up again, that’s up to them,” the source said.

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