(CNSNews.com) – The House Judiciary Committee recently passed a bill that would ban selective abortions based on race or gender by a 20-13 vote. The biggest hurdle to passage was the bill's name.
Democrats proposed calling the bill “The Ronald Reagan Impose Your Beliefs on a Woman's Womb Act” and “The Tea Party Determines What Rights a Woman Has Act.”
The legislation (H.R. 3541), sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), was originally entitled the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-discrimination Act of 2011.” But after objections by committee Democrats and an amendment by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the bill, which passed on Feb. 16, was changed to the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) during mark-up sessions last week.
Thirteen Democrats voted against the measure claiming it violated the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, and would “make it more difficult for women of color to obtain the basic reproductive health care services.”
The bill would prohibit abortions performed on the basis of a child’s sex or race and coercing a woman into an abortion for those same reasons.
“Can we not at least agree as Americans that it is wrong to knowingly kill unborn children because they are the wrong color or because they are baby girls instead of baby boys?” asked Rep. Franks. The congressman cited a Guttmacher Institute report that found the abortion rate for black women is almost five times that for white women.
“Despite the lofty name of this bill and the invocation of two of our great civil rights leaders, H.R. 3541 is the latest in a series of measures intended to chip away at a woman’s right to seek safe legal medical care,” said Rep. Conyers, kicking off the mark-up session that quickly devolved into debate over the bill’s name.
Offended at the use of the names of two civil rights heroes, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) offered his own titles for the bill: “The Ronald Reagan Impose Your Beliefs on a Woman's Womb Act” and “The Tea Party Determines What Rights a Woman Has Act.”
Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) called the bill’s title -- Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Non-discrimination Act of 2011 -- an “abomination.”
“We do not know what position Frederick Douglass or Susan B. Anthony would have had on this legislation,” he said. “I think it is just an absolute insult to these people to be trying to tie them to this movement.”
“Fourteen million African-American children have been aborted in this country since Roe versus Wade, 14 million, which far outpaces the death caused even in the days of slavery,” said Rep. Franks. “And I would suggest to you that if we are looking for an abomination, there it is.”
Franks argued that Douglass’s work to eradicate slavery and Anthony’s efforts for women’s rights made them relevant to his bill that seeks to protect unborn African-Americans and girls. “I do not know that there could be a greater namesake for the bill,” he said.
“Whether we agree or disagree on when life begins, I think we can agree that life ends at abortion,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). “And this bill is targeted at race- and sex- selection of babies for abortion. I believe that we are very, very consistent with Susan B. Anthony and the principles that she lived and stood for, and I think we are very, very consistent with Frederick Douglass.”
Ultimately, the legislation’s name was changed to PRENDA, after the Conyers amendment to strike the names of Anthony and Douglass passed 24-1.
After the name was changed, Congressman Johnson withdrew two amendments offering his own titles for the bill.
“I had a couple of amendments,” Johnson said. “One was to change the name of the bill to the ‘Ronald Reagan Impose Your Beliefs on a Woman's Womb Act’. And I thought that since Ronald Reagan was a conservative and Frederick Douglass was a liberal.”
Johnson continued: “He wanted to change things. Ronald Reagan wanted to keep everything as it is, so he would have been opposed to Frederick Douglass in that time. And he is certainly more of an appropriate figure to name this bill after since he, you know, wanted to keep government off the backs of the people. And so, we want to get government out of a woman's womb. Let the woman make the decision.”
Johnson also suggested “The Tea Party Determines What Rights a Woman Has Act,” “which would certainly be appropriate,” he said.
Johnson’s statements drew ire from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). “The gentleman has just more or less taken Ronald Reagan's name in vain and said that had Ronald Reagan been around back in slavery times, he would have been for slavery,” he said. “I do not think that is the case.”
Chabot said Reagan was responsible for freeing millions behind the Iron Curtain with the fall of the Berlin Wall. “I do not think there is any indication at all that had Ronald Reagan been around the times of Frederick Douglass that he would have been a supporter of slavery,” he said.
“In 1980, candidate Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for the president of the United States in Philadelphia,” Johnson replied, before being cut off by Chabot who said, “I know exactly what you are going to say.”
Johnson apparently was attempting to insinuate that President Reagan was racist because he visited the Neshoba County Fair during his campaign in 1980. The site was near Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the Ku Klux Klan murdered three civil rights workers in 1964.
Chabot called it a “canard” and a “scurrilous hit” on the former president.
“There is no reason to bring Ronald Reagan into this and try to, you know, tie him into the Klan. I mean, that is just absurd,” he said.
Eventually, the bill passed in committee, 20-13, despite Democrats’ objections that the measure “tramples on the rights of women under the guise of nondiscrimination,” said Conyers.
Voting against the bill were: Conyers; Johnson; Watt; Howard Berman (D-Calif.); Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.); Bobby Scott (D-Va.); Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.); Maxine Waters (D-Calif.); Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico); Mike Quigley (D-Ill.); Judy Chu (D-Calif.); Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.); and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).
Rep. Quigley argued that the act was unnecessary because a physician has no responsibility to ask the intentions of a woman seeking an abortion and the individual has no obligation to say they are aborting based on the child’s race or sex.
But Franks then said, “Just because there were no murders in the Northwest Territory does not mean you do not have a statute on the books.”
“But showing how far we are apart,” Quigley said, “a woman's decision whether or not to go forward with having an abortion, really should not be compared to a person's decision to murder somebody.”