The House on Thursday failed to pass a bill banning gender-selective abortion, setting the GOP up for easy, albeit dubious, attacks on Democrats.
The vote was called on suspension of regular House rules, which means it required a two-thirds majority to pass. It fell short, 246-168.
“This is an important issue to the American people,” said House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). “This type of sex-selection is something most Americans find pretty repulsive. And our members feel strongly about it. That’s why it’s being brought to the floor.”
The vote on the Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (or PRENDA) makes the issue ripe for 30-second attack ads, the implication being that those who voted against the bill are sympathetic to abortions for the purposes of selecting gender.
The reality is more complicated.
Statistics suggest that gender-selective abortions, while a major problem in countries like China and India, are not prevalent in the United States.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the bill’s premise is “not exactly scientific.”
The measure, sponsored by anti-abortion advocate Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), would subject doctors and medical professionals to fines and imprisonment if they are found to have performed — or failed to report — abortions for the purposes of gender selection.
Opponents described the legislation as a sneak attack on abortion. “The Franks bill exploits the very real problems of sex discrimination and gender inequity while failing to offer any genuine solutions that would eliminate disparities in health-care access and information,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
“This bill is an attack on women’s health masquerading as an anti-discrimination bill,” said Rep. Jim McDermott (WA), the only physician in the Democratic caucus. “My friends, this bill is not what it claims to be.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.