07/31/2012 07:53 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

DC Abortion Bill Fails In House

WASHINGTON -- House Republicans on Tuesday failed to pass a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in Washington, D.C. But they succeeded in getting themselves on the record on the issue, which was the whole point.

The bill, called the "D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," went down, as expected, on a vote of 220 to 154. Republicans needed a two-thirds majority, or 248 votes, to pass it.

Six Republicans voted against it and 17 Democrats voted for it. Two lawmakers ducked the issue by voting "present:" Reps. Nan Hayworth (N.Y.) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio). LaTourette announced his retirement Monday.

Nobody expected the legislation to pass. But at a time when election-year politicking has almost entirely hijacked the House legislative process, some Republicans wanted the vote solely to burnish their conservative credentials back home.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the bill's author, said the measure was necessary because there used to be a time "when protecting little babies from torture was a noble thing."

"We will stand for a commitment to protect little babies that have no other people to protect them," Franks began shouting on the House floor. "By the grace of God, we're going to do that!"

Other conservatives, mostly male, lined up to reiterate their anti-abortion views. Some were more graphic than others.

"There is nothing humane, benign or compassionate about abortion," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.). If a woman has an abortion past the 20-week mark, "many times a little face may come out and stare back at you."

Democrats scoffed at the exercise.

"This is obnoxious," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). He said the bill not only "picks on the District of Columbia because we can," but is a "direct contradiction" of Roe v. Wade and just plain insulting to women. The bill would provide no exceptions to its abortion ban, including in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's health is at risk.

"It says to a woman ... whose health is threatened, 'We judge that your health is less important than pregnancy,'" Nadler said, adding sarcastically, "We're a bunch of arrogant politicians and you're just a woman that's pregnant."

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has fumed over the issue, pointed out that she was denied a request to testify on the bill when it was in committee, even though the bill targets her city.

"I ask members of this House to respect the laws and the women and the residents of the District of Columbia," Norton said before the vote. "Respect our differences eve as we respect yours."