The GOP-led House of Representatives is set to vote next week on legislation outlawing abortions later than 20 weeks into pregnancy after Republicans passed it out of committee Wednesday by a vote of 20-12.
The Judiciary Committee marked up the bill by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), an ardent foe of abortion rights, and approved it. The current threshold provided by the Supreme Court for a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is 24 weeks.
A version of the legislation last year applied the 20-week abortion ban only to the District of Columbia. This year Republicans are invoking the case of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell — the Philadelphia abortion doctor who was convicted last month of first-degree murders of three babies born alive — to argue for a nationwide ban on late-term abortion.“The terrifying facts uncovered during the course of the trial of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell, and successive reports of similar atrocities committed across the country, remind us how an atmosphere of insensitivity can lead to horrific brutality,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-TX). “Delivered or not, babies are babies, and they can feel pain at least by 20 weeks. It is time to welcome young children who can feel pain into the human family. And this bill, at last, will do just that.”
Franks likened late-term abortion to a human rights issue on the scale of slavery and genocide.
The bill is expected to pass the House and then die in the Democratic-led Senate, while winning the praise of anti-abortion voters whom Republicans rely on and incurring the wrath of reproductive rights advocates. While the Republican Party’s ongoing focus on curtailing legal abortion will energize social conservatives, it’s also likely to cost the party with women voters, who already prefer Democrats by considerable margins.
“The idea that the Republican men on this committee think they can tell the women of America they have to carry to term the product of a rape is outrageous,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), echoing his Democratic colleagues’ arguments against the legislation, called it “misguided, cruel and unconstitutional.”
There is not conclusive scientific evidence that fetuses can feel pain at 24 weeks of gestation. Just 1.4 percent of abortions involve fetuses older than 20 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — many of which are to protect the mother’s life or health.
The committee rejected two Democratic amendments aimed at creating exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the mother. The Republican Franks described them as efforts to “kill the bill,” claiming that incidence of pregnancy from rape was “very low.”
Nadler said the answer to Gosnell is to provide high-quality health care so women don’t have to resort to criminals like him, and “if that means funding a Planned Parenthood clinic in every neighborhood to put guys like Gosnell out of business, so be it.”
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), mocking the male-dominated group of Republicans on the committee, said, “There’s limited experience on this panel of those who’ve actually given birth.”
The bill is on deck for a full House vote next week, said Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).