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Sex-Selective Abortion Ban Sponsor Said It Might Be "Fatal" To Roe V. Wade

Many abortion-rights advocates worry that the ban on sex-selective abortions before the House today is an attack on abortion rights in general. As it turns out, that's exactly what its sponsor intended.

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PRENDA sponsor Trent Franks (right).
J. Scott Applewhite / AP

PRENDA sponsor Trent Franks (right).

Supporters of the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) have cast it as a civil rights measure. In a statement earlier this year, bill sponsor Rep. Trent Franks called the drive to ban race- and sex-selective abortion "the civil rights battle that will define our generation." He added, "this is an issue upon which all Americans should be able to find agreement, regardless of our party affiliations or even our beliefs about abortion."

The bill's prohibitions against race-selective abortion have since been stripped, but its backers still frame it as about equality, not abortion. In debate yesterday, Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle said, “sex selection abortion is the ultimate war on women.”

Abortion rights groups, though, are concerned that the bill is actually an attack on abortion in general. Loretta Ross of reproductive rights group SisterSong told BuzzFeed that she saw the bill as "a building block towards banning abortions altogether." And that may be how Franks really sees it too.

Franks gave the keynote speech last year at the Frederick Douglass Foundation Leadership Summit, which describes itself as "The Largest Annual Assembly of Christian Black Conservatives in America." Other speakers included Ryan Bomberger, whose group the Radiance Foundation was behind a Georgia billboard campaign that likened abortion to slavery. In his keynote, Franks said that PRENDA, which he was already championing, "establishes that unborn children are persons, too.” He added, “It might blow a fatal hole in Roe v. Wade."

PRENDA hasn't been pitched in the House as a personhood bill, perhaps because it needs the votes of 50 Democrats to pass. But for Franks in 2011, it was one. And the 2012 version of the bill does set up fetuses as persons who are potentially subject to discrimination (it includes the line "the selective abortion of females is female infanticide"). Despite its framing as an equality measure that everyone should support, PRENDA's main author once pitched it as something much more controversial: a way to set the stage for a full-scale abortion ban. And if passed, it may still have that potential.

Update: PRENDA has failed in the House. But in an interview yesterday, Franks said that even if the bill failed, “I think we’re doing the right thing strategically.” He said conservatives might use the bill to paint Democrats who voted against it as anti-women's-rights.

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