House Republicans opposed to abortion rights failed Wednesday in their bid to pass a controversial measure that would have required women seeking abortions to be informed that some fetuses feel pain.
Although it was clear the bill would have stalled in the Senate, the abortion opponents hoped the House vote would provide a symbolic victory before control of Capitol Hill passes to Democrats in January. Instead, the vote dealt social conservatives a final setback in a two-year congressional session that has not produced a major piece of antiabortion legislation.
The bill received majority support, 250 to 162. But that fell short of the two-thirds margin required under rules that limited debate.
Those decrying the outcome included Concerned Women for America, an advocacy group for socially conservative causes.
"Abortion not only kills a baby, it tortures them," said Wendy Wright, the group's president. "Regrettably, congressmen -- many who denounced the use of torture against suspected terrorists -- have voted to not let women know that abortion will torture their innocent unborn babies."
Abortion rights supporters applauded the bill's failure as they prepared for the arrival of a Democratic Congress, where such measures almost assuredly will not be considered.
"This sham bill is yet another partisan political ploy that misguidedly attempts to insert the government into private medical conversations between women and their doctors," said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara), who helped lead opposition to the legislation.
The opponents also disputed the claim by the bill's backers that fetuses 20 weeks and older experience pain.
The bill has not been a top priority for antiabortion activists. Their movement suffered a tougher loss this fall when a measure to strengthen parental consent laws was derailed in the Senate after passing the House.
The fetal pain bill was sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.).
"It's about time that women were told the truth about abortion," he said during floor debate.
Smith and others argued that because some evidence has been found that older fetuses feel pain, women seeking to terminate a pregnancy should be informed of that by abortion providers.
The bill would have required that the women be offered the choice of having anesthesia administered to the fetus.
Smith also said: "Is it our hope that this [bill] may dissuade a woman from allowing her child to be killed? Absolutely."
NARAL Pro-Choice America, one of the nation's leading abortion rights groups, was neutral on the bill. But a host of other groups, including the National Abortion Federation, opposed it, arguing that the evidence that fetuses feel pain was inconclusive.
"Requiring misleading mandated communication is an inappropriate and dangerous intrusion of Congress into private healthcare decisions," the heads of seven abortion rights groups and healthcare providers wrote in a letter to lawmakers.