Bid to ban gender abortions falls short

Posted: June 01, 2012

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 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 floor in a year when the economy has dominated the debate, and Republicans, besieged by assertions that they are waging a war on women, hit back by trying to depict the vote as a women's-rights issue.

"It is violence against women," Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) said 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," White House spokeswoman Jamie Smith said in a statement, "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."

The bill had little chance of becoming law. The Democratic-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. Twenty Democrats voted for it, while seven Republicans opposed it.

The bill's author, Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.), had said that regardless of the outcome, a point would be made.

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. 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.

Franks says there is evidence of sex-selection abortions in the United States among certain ethnic groups. The Guttmacher Institute, which favors abortion rights, said evidence of sex selection in the United States was limited and inconclusive.

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