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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Misleading Abortion Attack in Michigan

A TV ad in a Michigan primary says Republican Rep. Justin Amash “voted to allow gender-selection abortions” — described in the ad as “killing an unborn baby because it’s not the sex the parent wanted.” But the ad ignores Amash’s anti-abortion position and his reasons for voting against this particular bill.

Amash has voted against the National Right to Life Committee on only one key vote in three years, and that came on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act — the subject of this ad. At the time of the vote, Amash questioned the bill’s motive and its effectiveness, saying it “won’t stop a single abortion.”

Brian Ellis, a Republican who is challenging Amash in Michigan’s 3rd District primary, began airing the commercial March 10. The ad centers on a House vote in 2012 on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act, which would have made it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion on a woman who wants to end a pregnancy based on the gender of the fetus.

The ad begins with images of babies swaddled in pink and blue blankets. The babies in pink disappear one by one from hospital cribs, as the announcer describes a woman “killing an unborn baby because it’s not the sex the parent wanted.” It goes on to say “every Michigan Republican voted to stop this disgraceful practice — except one. Justin Amash.” It said the “Right to Life called Amash’s vote ‘shameful,’ and ‘pro-abortion.’ ”

It’s true that Amash was one of only seven Republicans — and the only Republican from Michigan — to vote against the bill, which failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority to suspend the rules and pass the bill. (A two-thirds majority, rather than a simple majority, is needed to suspend the rules.) It’s also true that the National Right to Life Committee issued a press release after the vote criticizing 168 House members — although not by name — for voting against the bill and with Obama.

But what the ad doesn’t say is that Amash opposes abortion, and this was the only time that he has voted against the Right to Life agenda since entering Congress in 2011. Amash has co-sponsored several anti-abortion bills, including legislation that would end federal funding of all organizations that perform abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, and legislation that would outlaw abortions at or after 20 weeks. Amash has voted with the National Right to Life Committee on 11 of 12 key votes that were scored, according to the organization’s scorecard.

The NRLC gave Amash a 70 percent rating in 2011-12 for voting against the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act and voting “present” twice on defunding Planned Parenthood (more on that later). He has a 100 percent rating in the current Congress.

The lone vote against the NRLC was on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act in 2012.

Amash, one of the harshest congressional critics of the NSA’s spying programs, has a libertarian streak and he displayed it on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act. The two-term Republican makes it a practice to explain his votes on his Facebook page, and, in this case, he took to the social media network to criticize the bill as ineffective in stopping abortion, politically motivated “to make the president look like he doesn’t care about women,” and un-democratic because it “criminalizes inaction” if medical providers do not report “known or suspected violations.”

Amash, May 31, 2012: When did Republicans start supporting hate-crime legislation? Hate-crime bills, like H R 3541, are apparently okay if they have to do with a baby’s gender but not okay if they have to do with a person’s skin color or sexual orientation. Or maybe they’re okay if it’s an election year and Republicans are trying to make the President look like he doesn’t care about women. I am appalled and outraged that we would take an issue as sacred as life and use it so cynically as a political weapon.

Republicans, and especially conservatives, should oppose abortion. Period. H R 3541 criminalizes the MOTIVE for getting an abortion. In other words, it keeps all abortions legal except those obtained for the “wrong” reasons. But ALL abortions are wrong. And criminalizing motive makes this simply another hate crime. Literally the only difference between a legal and an illegal abortion under the bill is whether the “abortion is sought based on the sex or gender of the child.”

The bill also shockingly makes it a crime for a medical or mental health professional NOT to turn in someone who they SUSPECT of having committed this thought crime. They can be thrown into prison for a year if they don’t “report known or suspected violations … to appropriate law enforcement authorities.” Free societies do not criminalize inaction.

I’m pro-life, and I think all abortion should be illegal. But Congress should not criminalize thought. And this bill won’t stop a single abortion if it becomes law. Every person seeking an abortion simply will sign a form stating her motive is not the sex of the baby. Those of us who are pro-life should demand more from Congress. While we waste time on stuff like this, genuine legislation to protect life is ignored.

Democratic critics questioned the need for the legislation — something that Amash did not do.

Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado said she doesn’t know anyone who supports abortion for gender selection, but she voted against the bill because “there is no problem in this country of abortion for gender selection,” according to a New York Times article on the vote.

There is no evidence of gender-selection abortions among the general U.S. population, but there is some evidence that it may be a problem within some immigrant groups that come from countries with a history of gender selection.

The World Health Organization issued a report in 2011 titled “Preventing gender-biased sex selection” that said the “biologically normal sex ratio at birth ranges from 102 to 106 males per 100 females.” The U.S. rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control, was not quite 105 males per 100 females in 2012, which is within the range predicted by this past pattern. The WHO report, which does not mention sex selection as an issue in the United States, says it is an “increasing concern in some South Asian, East Asian and Central Asian countries.”

However, the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act cites a 2008 study published in the National Academy of Sciences that reported evidence of “male-biased sex ratios among U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents in the 2000 U.S. Census.” Chinese, Korean and Asian Indian populations make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, so the effect on the U.S. sex ratio has been small, the study added.

We take no position on the bill and Amash’s vote against it or his reasons for doing so. Our point is that Michigan voters need more information than this 30-second ad provides.

Amash is known in Congress for taking what the New York Times called “contrarian” positions, and what he calls principled positions. For example, he also angered the state chapter of Right to Life on another abortion vote in 2011. He voted “present” on an amendment offered by then-Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana that would have denied federal funding to Planned Parenthood. But Amash co-sponsored a Pence bill that same year that would have defunded all organizations that perform abortions, not just one organization. In explaining that vote, Amash wrote on Facebook: “A responsible amendment — one that I would fully support — would defund all abortion providers. That is why I support Mike Pence’s H R 217, which cuts off all federal funds to any organization that performs an abortion — including Planned Parenthood.” It was the second time that he voted “present” on a Planned Parenthood amendment for the same reason.

We leave it up to readers to agree or disagree with Amash’s reasons for voting against Prenatal Non-discrimination Act (and, for that matter, voting “present” on the Planned Parenthood amendments). But 3rd District voters should know those reasons and that he opposes abortion rights — two critical pieces of information that are missing from this attack ad.

— Eugene Kiely

Update, March 14: This article was updated to clarify that Amash’s 70 percent rating in 2011-12 was affected by two “present” votes on defunding Planned Parenthood.