"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.