Abortion Battle Heats Up on the Hill

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., an outspoken pro-life advocate, is preparing to do battle again on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, he'll chair a House hearing in support of his latest legislative effort, the Prenatal NonDiscrimination Act (PreNDA). The measure would ban abortions done on the basis of gender or race.

"It would simply say that you cannot discriminate against the unborn by subjecting them to an abortion based on their race or sex," Franks says.

He points to a finding by the Guttmacher Institute: "...the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women." Franks also believes that sex-selection abortions are on the rise in the U.S. and notes a Zogby International poll that found 86 percent of those surveyed believed gender-based abortion choices should be illegal.

Pro-choice advocates say PreNDA is an "anti-choice" measure. Nancy Northup, President of Center for Reproductive Rights, calls it a "trumped up bill for a trumped up problem," and says it's a ridiculous waste of congressional resources at a time when the U.S. economy is faltering.

"This bill is a cynical and offensive attempt to evoke race and sex discrimination when actually it's about taking women's rights away," said Northup.

PreNDA contains both civil penalties and jail time for those who violate the ban, but not the women who seek or obtain abortions. Franks says he believes women who find themselves with an unintended pregnancy are "victims" who need help in the midst of a crisis, not punishment.

However, those who perform abortions done solely for sex- or race-selection purposes could face fines and up to five years in prison.

The bill will be vetted during a hearing in the House on Tuesday, which is slated to include testimony from a number of experts. Franks says the bill currently has about 60 co-sponsors and he's hoping to add more. "I would hope that even my friends on the left would be able to say 'No, this can't be who we are.'"

Critics say the bill has no chance of being passed this term. Even so, Franks says he hopes it will at least spark important conversations.