In a roll call Thursday (May 31), the House voted 246-168 for the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act but lacked the two-thirds majority required for passage. Supporters needed 30 more votes based on the number of members who participated in the roll call. The bill came to the floor for a vote under "suspension of the rules," which mandates a super-majority for approval.
The proposal likely would have advanced no further had it gained the two-thirds margin. The Democrat-controlled Senate likely would have rejected it, and the White House had indicated President Obama's opposition to the bill.
In the Republican-controlled House, 226 GOP members and 20 Democrats voted for the ban, while seven Republicans joined 161 Democrats in opposing it.
It would seem a proposal to outlaw abortions performed based on the sex of the unborn child -- procedures that almost always eliminate females -- would be likely to gain overwhelming support. Yet, 40 percent of the House opposed the measure, arguing -- among other things -- that it would undermine abortion rights, intimidate physicians and discriminate against certain ethnic groups in which sex-selection abortion has been evidenced.
Pro-life advocates expressed amazement at the amount of opposition to the bill.
"It is staggering that in a nation where Gallup tells us that a majority of Americans describe themselves as pro-life, the Congress elected by that same population could contain 168 members who are willing to go on record as refusing to outlaw killing an unborn baby because it's the wrong sex," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Public support for making sex-selection abortions illegal appears strong. A 2006 Zogby International poll showed 86 percent of Americans agreed that it should be illegal.
"Everyone knows that in 99 out of 100 such cases of 'sex-selection' abortions they are done to end the lives of little girls because their parents want a boy," Land said. "I can think of nothing more blatantly sexist and demeaning to women than to snuff out their lives in the womb just because they are not boys. This is an infamous day for the U.S. House of Representatives."
Tom McClusky, senior vice president for Family Research Council Action, said, "That anyone on either side of the political aisle would vote against a bill preventing gendercide in the United States is profoundly troubling."
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said, "It strikes me as grossly hypocritical that President Obama and his allies lament the so-called 'War on Women,' and yet fail to defend those women most in need -- unborn daughters and the mothers coerced into sex-selective abortion."
Obama and his allies have accused opponents of the administration's contraceptive/abortion mandate of conducting a war on women. That mandate requires health insurance plans to cover sterilizations and contraceptives, including those that can cause abortions.
While sex-selection abortion has gained notoriety as a widespread practice in such countries as China and India, studies in recent years have provided evidence such a pattern has begun to develop in the United States, especially in some immigrant communities.
A March 2008 study published in the journal of the National Academy of Sciences found American-born children of Chinese, Korean and Asian-Indian parents were more likely than those of white parents to be boys if the first children in the families were girls. The third child in such communities was 50 percent more likely to be a boy if the first two children were girls.
A study published in 2011 by University of California-Santa Francisco (UCSF) researchers demonstrated the use of sex-selection and the prevalence of forms of abuse toward mothers in the Asian-Indian community in this country. Based on interviews with 65 immigrant Indian women, the researchers found "40 percent of the women terminated prior pregnancies when they found the fetus was female" and 89 percent of women who learned they were pregnant with a girl during the interview had an abortion, according to UCSF. The women indicated their husbands and female in-laws especially pressured them to have boys.
The White House told ABC News reporter Jake Tapper May 30 that it "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."
Women's rights, abortion rights and civil rights organizations -- including Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-choice America, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the NAACP -- urged defeat of the bill.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "We oppose sex selection abortion. But this bill does nothing to advance protections against discrimination and instead will have the result of further shaming and stigmatizing women."
Planned Parenthood, the country's leading abortion provider, "strongly condemns any coercive reproductive policies," she said.
The House vote occurred the same week Planned Parenthood employees in New York City and Austin, Texas, were shown on undercover videos apparently seeking to help women who indicated they wanted sex-selection abortions. A Planned Parenthood official told The Huffington Post it opposes sex-based abortions but it is committed to providing "high quality, confidential, nonjudgmental care to all who come into" its clinics. That means no Planned Parenthood clinic will refuse to provide an abortion based on a woman's reason for the procedure, except in those states that have bans on sex-selective abortions, The Huffington Post reported.
Arizona, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Illinois are the only states that have outlawed such abortions.
Sex-selection abortion has been practiced widely in recent decades in such countries as China and India based on efforts to control the population while fulfilling those cultures' preference for males. It is estimated 160 to 200 million females worldwide have been killed by means of sex-selection abortion.
The bill, which was H.R. 3541, would have criminalized the following actions:
-- Knowingly performing an abortion based on the sex of the child;
-- Using or threatening force to coerce a sex-selection abortion;
-- Seeking or receiving money to perform such an abortion;
-- Transporting a woman across state lines or into this country for a sex-selection abortion.
A woman who underwent a sex-selection abortion could not have been prosecuted under the law. The maximum sentence for violating the law would have been five years in prison.
Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., sponsored the legislation
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/Baptist Press) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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