A Republican-sponsored bill that would have banned sex-selective abortions failed in the House of Representatives Thursday, the same day that anti-abortion activist group Live Action released a video of an undercover operative posing as a patient seeking a sex-selective abortion at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), authored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), would have made it a federal offense to perform an abortion on a woman seeking one because of the gender of her fetus. Doctors with knowledge of their patients' intentions who performed the procedure anyway would be subject to civil and criminal penalties, including jail time.
The bill failed in a 246-168 vote, with 7 Republicans in the GOP-controlled House voting against it and 20 Democrats voting in favor. "When people vote on this, the world will know where they really stand," said Franks before the vote took place, calling sex-selective abortions "the ultimate violence against women."
Franks and the bill's co-sponsors held a press conference on the Hill Thursday with Lila Rose, the president of Live Action, whose undercover "investigations" seek to smear Planned Parenthood by sending actors with hidden cameras into clinics to simulate seedy scenarios.
The group's latest video series, the first two installments of which were released Tuesday and Thursday of this week, shows Planned Parenthood employees responding to supposed patients' questions about how to obtain sex-selective abortions. The first takes place at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Austin, Texas, and the second at one in New York City.
In both videos, the Planned Parenthood employee answers the patient's questions about abortions and ultrasounds without encouraging or discouraging her choice to have an abortion. Live Action is using these videos as evidence that Planned Parenthood is facilitating "gendercide" in the U.S., while Planned Parenthood contends that the videos have been edited to leave out the parts of the conversation where the staffer discusses other options with the patient, such as adoption and continuing the pregnancy.
"A group that opposes Planned Parenthood’s mission and services is promoting a series of hoax patient videotapes related to sex selection," said Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Edited videos of hoax patient visits are part of a coordinated campaign over the last several years to distort Planned Parenthood’s services, mission and values."
The lawmakers highlighted the Live Action videos at the press conference for PRENDA on Thursday as evidence that Planned Parenthood is facilitating "gendercide" in the U.S.
"This is the real war on women," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) "Planned Parenthood advises an undercover female investigator in one of [the videos] how to procure a sex-selective abortion. In other words, Planned Parenthood is okay with exterminating a child in its huge network of clinics simply because she is a girl."
This is not the first time Republicans in Congress have teamed up with Lila Rose to launch a political attack against Planned Parenthood. In 2011, The Huffington Post reported that House Republicans' move to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood as part of its budget was "the culmination of a multi-year effort that involved parallel action by top Republicans and conservative media operatives playing up" the Live Action videos.
Neither Live Action nor Franks responded to questions about the level of coordination between them.
The House of Representatives voted on PRENDA Thursday afternoon under a suspension of House rules, which is a procedure that requires a two-thirds majority to pass and is normally reserved for uncontroversial bills. Most House Democrats, along with President Barack Obama and a slew of women's rights groups, opposed PRENDA, because it would criminalize doctors who failed to question their patients in order to determine their reasons for having an abortion.
"The administration opposes gender discrimination in all forms, but the end result of this legislation would be to subject doctors to criminal prosecution if they fail to determine the motivations behind a very personal and private decision," said White House spokeswoman Jamie Smith. "The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way."
"This might be one of the most disingenuous bills to ever to come to the floor of the House," Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) told colleagues during a floor debate on the bill Thursday. "Here’s the truth: this is not about women’s equality. PRENDA is simply another attempt by choice opponents to obstruct women’s access to reproductive health care."