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Sex-Selective Abortion Ban Falls Short of Needed Votes

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.”