The Prenatal Non-Discrimination Act (PRENDA) failed 246 to 168 in the House Thursday afternoon after a motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill did not win the required two-thirds majority. Twenty Democrats voted for it and seven Republicans opposed it.
The bill marks an effort by Republican lawmakers in Congress to reposition the debate about the "war on women."
Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) authored the bill, which would outlaw abortion based on the sex of the fetus. Sex-selective abortion would become a federal crime. "Sex selection is violence against women," Franks said, "and it is the truest kind of war against women."
Erika Bachiochi, a lawyer and editor of The Cost of "Choice": Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion, explained Franks’ argument.
In addition to "the war against women in the womb, there’s a war because some try to force women to mimic the womb-less male," Bachiochi said.
Rather than emphasizing reproductive choice as a path to equality, women should persuade men to accept parental responsibility for the children they have sired, she added.
Sex-selective abortion (SSA) has a long history in countries such as India and China, but recent studies show that it has also spread to America. As Rep. Joe Pitts (R., Pa.) mentioned on Wednesday, "A Columbia University study found evidence that sex selection at the prenatal level is happening right here in the United States."
In his opening remarks, Franks quoted the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt who wrote, "In terms of its sheer toll in human numbers, sex-selective abortion has assumed a scale tantamount to a global war against baby girls."
Franks also cited a February 2011 study, which interviewed South Asian immigrant women and found that "89 percent of women carrying female fetuses in their current pregnancy pursued an abortion."
"I refuse to believe," Franks said, "that we cannot find enough humanity in this body to conclude together that it is wrong to knowingly kill unborn children because they are baby girls instead of baby boys."
Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) denounced PRENDA as "the latest in a long series of measures intended to chip away a woman’s right to seek safe, legal, medical care."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) said the bill is not about sex-selective abortion, but about "women’s health care and gender discrimination." If representatives aim to help women, they should support the violence against women act, not PRENDA, Lee said.
Three women joined Franks in speaking on behalf of the bill. All three focused on the basic moral issue behind the bill, rather than addressing the claim that it violates doctor-patient confidentiality.
One of the women, Rep. Sandy Adams (R., Fla.), said, "Aborting babies because they are the wrong sex is just plain wrong." As the mother of a daughter, she was "disturbed" by SSA. She argued that these abortions would be performed at a later term, when the sex of the fetus could be determined and when the fetus would be able to feel pain.
Ann Marie Buerkle (R., N.Y.) said, "There can be no rights for women if we don’t allow them the right to life." She denounced the Democrats for focusing on money, political campaigns, and rhetoric to dodge the main issue.
The bill failed as sex selective abortion hit the news in the form of an undercover video sting showing Planned Parenthood employees advising women on how to best obtain abortions based on the fetus’s gender.
Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.) attacked Planned Parenthood, alleging that they have partnered with sex-traffickers and citing the video linking the organization to SSA. While Planned Parenthood has denied any connection to sex-selective abortion, its spokesman insisted that it would continue to support women’s access to contraception and abortion.
A recent poll found that 77% of Americans oppose sex-selective abortion.