The House rejected a bill to ban sex-selection abortions despite Republican calls for Congress to take a stand on a practice that has resulted in the terminations of an estimated 200 million unborn girls around the world.
Thursday's 246-168 vote fell well short of the two-thirds needed to pass the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (Prenda) under its fast-track, suspension-of-the-rules procedure.
Twenty Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Prenda, as did seven Republicans who voted against it.
Sex-selection abortion refers to the practice of aborting a fetus because it is an unwanted gender.
The practice has escalated in the wake of technologies, especially ultrasounds, that enable expectant couples to know the gender of their unborn children. In countries, such as China and India, that have deep-seated cultural preferences for sons, abortions of unwanted girl babies have grown so common that national sex ratios are alarmingly skewed.
At least six studies show that sex-selection abortions are happening also in the United States in Asian communities with a preference for sons, Prenda proponents said this week.
"This is an important issue to the American people," House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Thursday before the vote, according to the Hill newspaper.
"This type of sex selection most Americans find pretty repulsive, and our members feel strongly about it. That's why it is being brought to the floor," Mr. Boehner said.
Prenda is needed to prevent this "ultimate violence against women" from happening in America, Rep.Trent Franks, Arizona Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, said in a pre-vote press conference Thursday with other Prenda supporters.
Regardless of the outcome of the House members' votes, Mr. Franks added, "the world will know where they really stand."
Rep. Mike Quigley, Illinois Democrat, countered that Prenda "might be one of the most disingenuous bills" to ever come before the House.
"This bill will not prevent sex-selective abortions" because criminalizing the practice doesn't work in other countries, either, he said. It would, however, force physicians to question women about their reasons for seeking an abortion and "promote racial profiling and discrimination," he said.
Prenda would send "personal, private decisions into the courts," said Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky, Illinois Democrat, noting that Thursday marked the third anniversary of the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, a medical director of a Kansas clinic where late-term abortions were performed. Pro-life activist Scott Roeder is serving a life sentence for the murder.
The Obama administration does not support Prenda because "government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way."
Thursday's vote was "dangerously close," warned pro-choice leader Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
"Gender discrimination is a real problem in the United States, but making essential health care less accessible is not a solution to that problem," she said.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the 168 votes against Prenda showed an "absolutist" attitude about abortion, even in cases when women are being coerced into abortions of their unborn daughters.
The SBA will "ensure that come November, women will remember who failed to stand up for them," Mrs. Dannenfelser said.
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