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20-Week Abortion Ban Heading to House Floor Next Week

The House will vote next week on a bill banning abortions across the country after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that the chamber is on track to consider legislation next week that would ban all abortions after the 20-week threshold — the point at which some medical professionals believe a fetus can begin to feel pain.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., is being marked up by the full House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and has the strong backing of the National Right to Life Committee.

Heye also confirmed that the bill would be brought to the floor under a rule, designed to allow for passage via a simple majority. Franks had a previous incarnation of the bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks only in the District of Columbia, and it came up for a vote in 2012 under suspension of the rules, an expedited procedure for allowing bills to come to the floor. But such suspension measures require a two-thirds majority vote for passage, and the bill failed to pass that goal post.

An urgency to move forward with the expanded bill, however, comes amid pressure from outside groups following the the case of Kermit Gosnell, a Pennsylvania abortion doctor who was recently convicted of three counts of first-degree murder. Gosnell was found to have operated his clinic in squalor and to have killed infants after they had been born.

“The trial of Kermit Gosnell exposed late abortions for what they really are: relocated infanticide,” Franks said in a recent statement. “I pray we use this as a ‘teachable moment,’ in the words of President Obama, and can agree that, at the very least, we are better than dismembering babies who can feel every excruciating moment.”

Though the bill is expected to pass given that the House Republican majority is largely opposed to abortion, it is likely to spark ire among some moderate Republicans in vulnerable districts for whom the vote could be politically damaging either way.

When the earlier iteration of the bill was on the floor last year, then-Reps. Mary Bono Mack of California and Robert Dold of Illinois, both moderate Republicans, confronted Cantor on the chamber floor for forcing their vote on the measure.

“It was very frustrating,” Bono Mack told CQ Roll Call recently. “There were real issues to focus on that should have been the news of the day. It wasn’t this.”

Bono Mack was ultimately defeated in her re-election campaign in 2012, as was Dold.

The vote next week will also certainly prompt outrage from abortion-rights Democrats, who will, like Mack, say that Congress should be voting to create jobs and repeal the sequester, not on controversial social policy bills that are all but dead on arrival in the Senate.

Before Heye confirmed the bill’s scheduled floor consideration, NARAL Pro-Choice America released a statement in anticipation of Wednesday’s markup, calling on House Republican leaders to pass on moving the legislation beyond the committee level.

“Where is the House leadership? With such an important margin of women voting against the conservative’s out-of-touch agenda in the last election, Speaker Boehner should not be looking for more opportunities to alienate women voters,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said.

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