The House on Thursday rejected a bill that would have made it illegal for doctors to perform abortions based solely on the gender of the unborn baby.
In a 246-168 vote, Democrats prevented Republicans from securing the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure, which Republicans said is needed to protect unborn females they claim are more likely to be targeted for "sex-selective" abortions.
Democrats said Republicans' decision to force a vote on the measure using a parliamentary maneuver that required a two-thirds majority to pass it was evidence that the legislation was nothing more than a political exercise intended to underscore Democratic opposition to the measure rather than a real effort to pass it.
"We are in a political year, and politics have been good to the Republicans of late," said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
Republicans have in recent weeks been trying to combat Democratic charges that the GOP is engaged in a "war on women." Democrats used Republican opposition to a domestic violence bill and pay-equity legislation as evidence that Republicans are anti-woman.
The fight over female voters is particularly heated because women, particularly those registered as independents, are expected to play a pivotal role in the November elections.
House Republicans on Thursday tried to use the sex-selective abortion measure, called the Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act, to turn the gender war against the Democrats. The bill would make it a crime, punishable by up to five years in prison, for a doctor to perform an abortion knowing it was being done solely because of the unborn child's gender.
Republicans argued during debate on the bill that sex-selective abortion is used to end pregnancies of unborn females both abroad and in the United States.
"This is the ultimate war on women," said Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, R-N.Y.
The bill would also make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion based on the baby's gender, which Republicans said is not uncommon in some countries such as China and India. Republicans argued that at least one study demonstrated gender-based abortions are being performed in the United States as well, although abortion rights groups dispute that claim.
The bill would not hold the woman who gets an abortion based on gender criminally liable, but it would "authorize civil actions" against the doctor by the father of the baby as well as the maternal grandmother, if the mother of the baby is a minor.
Democrats said the bill represented another effort by Republicans to strip away the rights and protections women currently enjoy, including the ability to obtain a legal abortion.
"This is a divisive bill that criminalizes a woman's most private health care decision," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the bill would place excessive burdens on doctors to determine the motivation behind every abortion.
"Doctors would be forced to police their patients, read their minds and conceal information from them," Nadler said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has not decided whether to take up the abortion bill again, this time under rules that would require only a simple majority to pass it.
"This is an important issue to the American people," Boehner said Thursday. "This type of sex selection most people find pretty repulsive."