The House of Representatives passed a GOP-sponsored bill on Wednesday that would ban most late-term abortions and require doctors to try to help aborted fetuses survive in the rare occasions that such procedures are allowed.
The legislation would bar most women from terminating pregnancies after 20 weeks and is based on some doctors’ belief that fetuses develop the ability to feel pain at that point, though the research is disputed.
Exceptions can be made for victims of rape, women whose lives are endangered by the pregnancy and minors who are victims of incest if the assault is reported to police or a government agency. (It doesn’t exempt incest victims 18 or older.)
In such cases, a second doctor would have to be present during the procedure to provide medical care for the fetus and transport it to a hospital if it is born alive and seems capable of surviving.
A previous version of the bill, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was abruptly shelved in January. Female Republican legislators objected to its stipulation that women whose pregnancies resulted from rape would be eligible for a late-term abortion only if they had reported the sexual assault to law enforcement. They worried that the requirement could retraumatize rape victims and turn female voters away from the GOP in the 2016 elections.
In the latest version, put forth on Monday by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., that provision has been scrapped. But women seeking an exemption would be required to receive counseling or medical care 48 hours before the abortion in order to have the procedure.
Also added to the current version of the bill is a requirement that the mother sign a consent form acknowledging that an attempt will be made to let her fetus be born alive unless the mother’s health would be threatened. The measure would make it easier to bring civil actions against doctors who violate the law, and the federal government would be required to compile statistics on abortions performed under the law.
While it won approval in the House, the bill has little chance of becoming law, since it would likely be blocked by Democrats in the Senate and the White House said President Barack Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk.
Regardless, abortion opponents are praising the legislation. Franks told the House on Wednesday morning that late-term abortions are “the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today.”
Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said last week that the legislation “is of critical importance in saving up to 13,000 babies a year from a gruesomely painful death from late term abortion.”
Abortion-rights advocates say the measure violates women’s privacy and dispute the contention that fetuses at that stage can experience pain.
“You want to talk about pain? Let’s talk about the agony of a woman who’s raped and again violated by unnecessary government intrusion,” said Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla.
Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said late-term abortions are rare and that the legislation was part of the Republican agenda “to ban abortion completely.”
“We’ve seen what happens when politicians interfere in deeply personal medical decisions and tie doctors’ hands,” she said in a call with reporters Wednesday morning. “In states that have passed laws like this, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations, needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons but unable to do so.”
Some 10 U.S. states have instated abortion bans at 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports access to abortion.
Statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that just 1.4 percent of the 730,000 abortions performed in 2011 happened after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Christie Brooks, a mother of two from central Virginia, said during the call with reporters that she discovered at her 20-week ultrasound that her unborn baby had a serious condition that would prevent the lungs from properly developing without “major surgical interventions.”
After extensive research, she said she and her family decided to end the pregnancy. She said legislators ought to listen to “real women like me” and that a federal 20-week ban “would put politicians in the middle of our most personal decisions and could rush some families into a decision before they have time to properly research and make an informed decision.”
With The Associated Press