CORRECTED: The original version of this story incorrectly described the Planned Parenthood worker in the video mentioned in the second paragraph.
Republicans are trying to claim victory in the public relations war for women this week, holding a vote Thursday on a bill that prohibits women from getting abortions based on the sex of the fetus.
The measure is conveniently coordinated with a “sting” video released on Tuesday by antiabortion group Live Action, which apparently shows a Planned Parenthood employee going along with a patient’s plan to abort her pregnancy if the fetus was female.
Unlike other abortion votes in the House, this bill is heading to the floor under suspension of the rules. It’s a procedural maneuver typically reserved for less-controversial bills and requiring two-thirds of House members present and voting to pass. Somewhere around 287 members will have to vote “aye” in order for the bill to pass (depending how many members show up), meaning approximately 45 Democrats will have to sign on with Republicans. In other words, it’s a higher bar to passing the bill.
But National Right to Life Legislative Director Douglas Johnson doesn’t see any problems with that. The antiabortion group sent a letter to House members on Tuesday saying it would count the vote in its annual abortion legislation scorecard.
“I wouldn’t assume the opposition is going to be that strong,” Johnson said in an interview. “I have yet to see a single legislative alert or scorecard warning from any of the major pro-abortion lobbies.”
Plus, the House could always vote on the bill again should it go down, Johnson said.
Abortion rights groups are opposing the legislation, but a bit more quietly than on other abortion votes. A fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center says it strongly opposes the legislation, calling it an “unconstitutional burden on a fundamental right.” A bloc of Democratic women is also speaking out in opposition. “House Republicans will hit a new low tomorrow when they bring up for a vote legislation that severely interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, criminalizing doctor’s conversations with the women they care for, while forcing women to endure interrogations regarding their medical care,” Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said in an e-mail.
NARAL Pro-Choice America says the bill isn’t as simple as it looks. “The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act could subject a doctor to up to five years in prison for failing to determine if sex is a factor in a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy,” the group said in a statement.
It is unclear if the bill will get enough Democratic support to pass the House. A spokesperson for Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Democrats were not asking their members to vote for or against the legislation. Either way, the vote is almost guaranteed to go nowhere in the Democratic Senate.
So why would Republicans make it harder for their own bill to pass? A spokesperson for Majority Leader Eric Cantor said it was just a typical suspension bill. But as Johnson mentioned, a suspension vote could force Democrats to vote on this issue twice -- once under suspension of the rules, and once if that bill fails and Republicans decide to bring it to the floor with a rule. Both times it would force Democrats to take a tough vote on a bill that at first glance seems like no one would oppose, making it hard to explain opposition to constituents.