WASHINGTON—Dangerous. Cruel. Extreme. Unconstitutional. Pro-life advocates might use any of those words to describe the practice of abortion, but on Tuesday it was Democrats using those terms to express disdain for a Republican-backed bill that would ban abortion in the United States after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Despite the cries of Democrats, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act Tuesday evening in a vote that advocates dubbed “historic” for the pro-life movement.
“It’s simple: Children capable of experiencing unimaginable pain from abortion must be protected across the country,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List. “This pro-woman, pro-science, constitutional bill deserves an immediate vote in the U.S. Senate.”
The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill, and President Barack Obama issued a statement Monday threatening a veto if the legislation reached his desk.
A Gallup poll released earlier this year found 80 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy, and 64 percent want abortion banned in the second trimester. H.R. 1797 would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks gestation, which equates to 22 weeks in another commonly used method of measuring pregnancy.
The public popularity of banning late-term abortions didn’t stop Democrats from accusing Republicans of waging a “war on women” with a bill that is a “violent assault on reproductive rights in America,” according to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.
“Why are we here wasting the time and the money of the American people on a futile and extreme legislative joy ride?” Jeffries asked. “This is conservatism gone wild.”
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., filed the bill in April as a measure that would have only applied to the District of Columbia, where abortion is currently legal until the moment a baby is delivered. He later amended the legislation to apply to the rest of the country.
Franks did not speak in support of his bill on the floor after he came under criticism from Democrats and the media for comments made last week while the bill was still in committee. In response to a proposed amendment that would have added an exception for rape and incest, Franks said instances of pregnancy resulting from rape are “very low.”
Democrats never explained why five months wasn’t long enough to make a decision about an abortion following a rape, but Republicans later altered the bill to add an exception for rape and incest. Democrats blasted the exception as “narrow” and said the bill should also include an exception for the health of the mother, in addition to the existing exception for the life of the mother.
Democrats said the bill’s deficiencies were evidence that it was an all-male contingent of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee who crafted it. The GOP countered with a strategy that sent 10 women to the microphone in support of the bill, including Reps. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Diane Black (R-Tenn.), Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), Kristi Noem (R-N.D.), Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who last week referred to late-term abortions “sacred ground,” urged her colleagues on Tuesday to “vote ‘no’ against this dangerous bill.”
“Let me tell you what’s dangerous,” Marsha Blackburn shouted in response, going on to list disgraced Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell, Texas abortionist Douglas Karpen, and accusations of unsafe abortion practices in Delaware.
Gosnell was sentenced last month to three life terms in prison for first-degree murder and a litany of other charges for crimes committed at his Philadelphia abortion center. Republicans cited Gosnell frequently during debate Tuesday, but Democrats said Gosnell’s practices are already illegal, making additional legislation unnecessary.
Democrats speaking against the bill never cited evidence that suggests unborn babies don’t feel pain at 20 weeks gestation and beyond. Republicans stressed that doctors give unborn babies anesthesia when conducting prenatal surgery. They also pointed out that women seeking abortions at 21 weeks or later are 91 times more likely die from the procedure than they are in the first trimester.
“Wherever the tragedy of elective abortion occurs, there must be oversight, there must be rigorous scrutiny, and there must be protections for women and children—regardless of who considers the turf ‘sacred,’” Virginia Foxx said in a statement.
Tuesday’s 228-to-196 vote fell mostly along party lines, with six Democrats voting for the bill, and six Republicans voting against it. H.R. 1797 had 184 cosponsors when it reached the floor.