WASHINGTON The House of Representatives rejected a bill on Tuesday that would have banned most abortions in the 20th week of pregnancy in the District of Columbia.
The closely watched vote marked the first time Congress has voted on legislation that would have limited abortion because of pain to the fetus.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted down the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act 220-154, with two members voting "present." The House suspended its usual rules for the vote, meaning that a two-thirds majority of those present was needed to pass.
The bill would have added the U.S. capital to the nine states that have approved laws since 2010 limiting abortions after 20 weeks. The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights organization, estimates that 1.5 percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks of pregnancy.
Those backing the ban say fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks and women should carry them to term or until the pregnancy terminates. Those against it say research on fetal pain is inconclusive.
The House bill would have banned abortions in the nation's capital after 20 weeks unless needed to save the mother's life. The National Right to Life Committee had said the bill was a priority.
Abortion-rights advocates and anti-abortion activists had said they would note lawmakers' votes as a scorecard of their positions ahead of November elections.
The House vote came a day after a U.S. judge refused to block an Arizona law that banned most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
District officials opposed the measure, contending it meddled in the capital city's autonomy. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate, but there is little chance the Democrat- controlled chamber or the White House would approve the bill.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Eric Walsh)