WASHINGTON – The House on Thursday fell short in an effort to ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus as Republicans and Democrats made an election-year appeal for women’s votes.
The legislation would have made it a federal crime to perform or force a woman to undergo a sex-based abortion, a practice most common in some Asian countries where families wanting sons abort female fetuses.
It was a rare social issue to reach the House floor in a year when the economy has dominated the political conversation, and Republicans, besieged by Democratic claims that they are waging a war on women, struck back by trying to depict the vote as a women’s rights issue.
“It is violence against women,” said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., of abortions of female fetuses. “This is the real war on women.”
The White House, most Democrats, abortion rights groups and some Asian-American organizations opposed the bill, saying it could lead to racial profiling of Asian-American women and subject doctors who do not report suspected sex-selection abortions to criminal charges.
“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,” White House spokeswoman Jamie Smith said in a statement. “The government should not intrude in medical decisions or private family matters in this way.”
The bill had little chance of becoming law. The Democrat-controlled Senate would likely have ignored it, and the House brought it up under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote was 246-168 – 30 votes short of that majority.
The bill’s author, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said before the vote that regardless of the outcome, the point would be made. “When people vote on this, the world will know where they really stand.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat, said he thought the bill was introduced because “somebody decided politically that this was a difficult place to put people in.”
The legislation would have made it a federal offense, subject to up to five years in prison, to perform, solicit funds for or coerce a woman into having a sex-selection abortion. Bringing a woman into the country to obtain such an abortion would also be punishable by up to five years in prison. While doctors would not have an affirmative responsibility to ask a woman her motivations for an abortion, health workers could be imprisoned for up to a year for not reporting known or suspected violations of the ban on sex-based abortions.