Sex-Selective Abortion Ban Falls Short of Needed Votes

The House of Representatives failed to reach a necessary two-thirds majority this afternoon to pass a bill that would have banned sex-selective abortions.

Democrats tried to frame Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-Ariz.) bill as another shot fired in the “war on women,” while Republicans stressed that the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act was a vital step to stem a growing trend that had received condemnation from the U.S. abroad but not at home.

“This evil practice has now allowed thousands of little girls in America and million across the world to be brutally dismembered… simply because they were little girls instead of little boys,” Franks said during yesterday’s floor debate, noting the trends was being seen within but not limited to the Asian-American community.

“What in God’s name have we come to?” he added.

After the five-minute vote ended, there were more Democratic defectors than Republican ones. Among the bill’s 98 co-sponsors were Blue Dog Dems Dan Boren (Okla.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.).

Out of the lower chamber, 414 members showed up to vote, with a final tally of 246-168. To pass with this number present, the bill would have needed 30 more votes than it received.

Franks told his colleagues before the vote that he knows “Congress deals with many controversial issues,” but he refused to believe that the chamber couldn’t muster “enough humanity” to pass the measure.

Twenty Democrats supported the bill, including Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who’s challenging Richard Mourdock for Sen. Richard Lugar’s seat. Seven Republicans voted against it. They were Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), and Ron Paul (R-Texas).

Those Democrats who stayed in party ranks tried to paint a wicked picture of the GOP not trying to save lives, but trying to chip away at Roe v. Wade “under the guise of non-discrimination” and of violating women’s rights.

“The Republicans have set up another straw man,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said. “It’s about as cynical and deceptive as anything I’ve seen on the floor.”

“Today the Republicans continue their war on women in a new and creative way… it is cynical, but creative,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky said that the bill would send “an incredibly private and personal decision into the courts” and the length of the litigation would “force” a woman to carry out her pregnancy. Schakowsky then cited today’s 3rd anniversary of the murder of late-term abortion doctor George Tiller in Kansas, hailing the man. “His motto was ‘trust women,'” the congresswoman said. “This bill is just the latest strike by Republicans in the war on women.”

The measure needed a two-thirds majority because it was brought up under a suspension of the rules. The usual purpose of bringing a bill to the floor in this manner is to quickly plow through non-controversial measures, like naming post offices or honoring famous Americans; Franks’ bill was anything but that. The speaker of the House determines which bills can move to a vote under a suspension of the rules.

The bill was originally named the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) lauded Republicans for shortening the name of the bill. “I’m glad we won’t have to listen to that anymore,” he said of the comparison of abortion to slavery.

“This bill is not about civil rights,” charged Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “It’s part of the Republican war on women, also known as WOW, as in ‘wow, they continue to attack women.'”

“It’s a political season so that’s what they’re doing with this bill,” Johnson continued. “They’re pitting the men against the women… it’s really part of the divide-and-conquer approach that has been successful for these Republicans.”

Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) retorted that sex-selective abortion is “the ultimate war on women.”

“There can be no rights for women if we don’t allow them the right to life,” she said.

The bill cited a 2008 study by Columbia University economists that examined the sex ratio of U.S.-born children and found “evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage” along with an obvious “son preference” in certain segments of the U.S. population. “The evidence strongly suggests that some Americans are exercising sex-selection abortion practices within the United States consistent with discriminatory practices common to their country of origin, or the country to which they trace their ancestry,” the bill states.

The measure also highlighted how Congress has passed disapproval of sex-selective abortion in China, and how the U.S. delegation at the 2007 United Nation’s Annual Meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women spearheaded a resolution calling on countries to condemn sex-selective abortion.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told a story on the floor about a person in India who would wait to hear the  repeated splashes of baby girls being dropped in the Ganges, then rescue the girls and take them to an orphanage. “That culture has arrived here in this country,” King warned.

“Public statements from within the medical community reveal that citizens of other countries come to the United States for sex-selection procedures that would be criminal in their country of origin,” the bill states. “Because the United States permits abortion on the basis of sex, the United States may effectively function as a ‘safe haven’ for those who seek to have American physicians do what would otherwise be criminal in their home countries–a sex-selection abortion, most likely late-term.”

Anyone performing an abortion with knowledge that it was sought on the basis of gender or race would have been subject to a fine and/or up to five years in prison under the measure. It also allowed for civil action by the mother or relatives in the event of such an abortion.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters at a news conference today that she opposed the bill, citing the opposition of the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (which last year gave Franks, a steady opponent of abortion, a zero rating in its legislator scores).

“Well, the maker of the motion has said he brought it to the floor for a purpose that was not exactly scientific,” Pelosi said. “And so I think it should be treated that way.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked at today’s press briefing how the administration could oppose the ban on gender-based abortion when President Obama was speaking out so vociferously against gender-based discrimination.

“We oppose gender discrimination in all its forms,” Carney said. “And we don’t selectively pursue legislation in order to achieve other ideological goals. We oppose it in all its forms. This piece of legislation would have the hopefully unintended consequence of criminalizing a failure by a doctor and prosecuting a doctor for criminal behavior if — if he or she were somehow to fail to intuit the motivations of a patient in making a very private medical decision.”

This is hardly the last effort by Franks to battle abortion.

Franks recently oversaw a subcommittee hearing on his District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortion in the district after 20 weeks with an exception for the life of the mother, allows civil recourse for the mother and the baby’s relatives, and requires any physician who performs an abortion to report it. That bill has 196 co-sponsors, and has sparked fury from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who claims it violates the district’s home-rule rights.

“The supposedly small government, Tea Party Republicans lacked the courage to introduce a post-20-week abortion ban bill for the entire nation, which they knew the nation would not buy, and took the bully’s path to make an ideological point at the expense of the District of Columbia,” Norton said earlier this month.

Republicans expressed disappointment at today’s defeat — which came a day after an anti-abortion group released video showing sex-selective abortion counseling at a Planned Parenthood in Austin, Texas — but vowed to press on.

“There are few issues that everyone should be able to agree on,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “That abortions performed simply because of the sex of the child are unconscionable is one of them.”

“If there is a ‘war on women,’ as President Obama asserts, where are Democrats when it’s time to protect the most defenseless of all women – baby girls?” King said. “I’m looking forward to House action allowing the pro-life majority to protect baby girls by passing PRENDA under regular order.”