The House on Thursday rejected a Republican bill that would impose fines and prison terms on doctors who perform abortions for the sole purpose of controlling the gender of the child, a practice known as sex-selective abortion.
The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act (PRENDA), H.R. 3541, was defeated in a 246-168 vote. While that's a clear majority of the House, Republicans called up the bill under a suspension of House rules, which limits debate and requires a two-thirds majority vote to pass. In this case, it would have required more support from Democrats.
Suspension votes are normally used for noncontroversial bills, but the GOP-backed measure was clearly controversial. Republicans have occasionally put controversial bills on the suspension calendar in order to highlight that Democrats oppose certain policies.
In some cases, Republicans have rescheduled these bills for regular consideration after they have failed, allowing for passage by a simple majority. But Republicans gave no sign that they would try again with PRENDA.
Earlier in the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated that the issue of stopping sex-selective abortion is important enough that they would try again, but he was not specific.
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"This is an important issue to the American people," Boehner said to reporters off the floor. "This type of sex selection most Americans find pretty repulsive, and our members feel strongly about it. That's why it is being brought to the floor."
During debate on the bill Wednesday, Republicans said the bill is consistent with the broader U.S. position that sex-selective abortion should be condemned around the world.
"In 2007, the United States spearheaded a U.N. resolution to condemn sex-selective abortion worldwide," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the sponsor of the bill. "Yet, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we are the only advanced country left in the world that still doesn't restrict sex-selective abortion in any way."
While some Democrats made it clear that they oppose sex-selective abortion, they indicated that they oppose the bill's enforcement provisions, which they said would put in place an unacceptable limit on women's rights to choose abortion.
"We can all agree that women should not choose to terminate a pregnancy based solely on gender, but this bill criminalizes a legal procedure," Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) said Thursday afternoon.
"The bill includes a provision that would allow a women's husband or parents, by merely alleging that an abortion is because of gender, to seek injunctive relief to prevent the doctor from performing abortion procedures, sending an incredibly private and personal decision into the courts," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) added Thursday.
"It is another Republican intrusion into a woman's right to choose," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) of the GOP bill on Wednesday. "Women should be able to make such sensitive and private decisions with their families, their doctors and their god, free from the fear of the police."
Republicans voting against the bill were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Charlie Bass (N.H.), Mary Bono Mack (Calif.), Robert Dold (Ill.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Nan Hayworth (N.Y.), and Ron Paul (Texas).
Democrats voting for it were Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jerry Costello (Ill.), Mark Critz (Pa.), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Tim Holden (Pa.), Larry Kissell (N.C.), Daniel Lipinski (Ill.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.Va.), Silvestre Reyes (Texas), Mike Ross (Ark.) and Heath Shuler (N.C.).