WASHINGTON - The House fell short Thursday in an effort to ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus as Republicans and Democrats made an election-year appeal for women’s votes.
The legislation would have made it a federal crime to perform or force a woman to undergo a sex-based abortion, a practice most common in some Asian countries where families wanting sons abort female fetuses.
It was a rare social issue to reach the House floor in a year when the economy has dominated the conversation, and Republicans, besieged by Democratic claims that they are waging a war on women, struck back by trying to depict the vote as a women’s rights issue.
“It’s violence against women,’’ said Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, of abortions of female fetuses. “It is the real war on women.’’
The White House, most Democrats, abortion rights groups, and some Asian-American organizations opposed the bill, saying it could lead to racial profiling of Asian-American women and subject doctors who do not report suspected sex-selection abortions to criminal charges.
The legislation would have made it a federal offense, subject to up to five years in prison, to perform, solicit funds for, or coerce a woman into having a sex-selection abortion. Bringing a woman into the country to obtain such an abortion would also be punishable by up to five years in prison.
The bill had little chance of becoming law. The Democratic-controlled Senate would probably have ignored it, and the House brought it up under a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority for passage. The vote was 246-168 - 30 votes short of that majority. Twenty Democrats voted for it, while seven Republicans opposed it.
Of the 10-member all-Democratic Massachusetts delegation, Stephen Lynch of South Boston was the only representative to vote for the ban.