A legislative push to permit California’s public universities to once again consider race and ethnicity in admissions appears to be on life support after an intense backlash from Asian-American parents who fear it will make it harder for their children to get into good schools.

A planned referendum sailed through the state Senate in January without fanfare on a party-line vote, but three Asian-American Democrats who initially backed the measure are now calling for it to be “tabled” before the state Assembly has a chance to vote on it — a highly unusual move. And it seems unlikely to get the two-thirds majority in the Assembly without the support of the five Asian-Americans in the lower house.

Over the last several weeks, the three senators who have had second thoughts about the referendum — Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; Ted Lieu, D-Torrance; and Carol Liu, D- La Cañada/Flintridge — said they have received thousands of calls and emails from fearful constituents who believe that any move to favor other ethnic groups could hurt Asian-Americans, who attend many of the state’s best schools in large numbers.