After months of delays, House Republicans passed a bill Wednesday that would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother’s life.
“This legislation is a dangerous and far-reaching attack on a women’s constitutional right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy,” the ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Committee, John Conyers Jr., said Wednesday.
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The Michigan Democrat also presented the bill as a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade because viability is generally considered to be around 24 weeks of pregnancy, not 20, and the landmark 1973 case decided the right to privacy extended to having an abortion up to the point of viability.
Republicans countered that at roughly 20 weeks, a fetus could feel pain. The bill’s sponsor, Arizona GOP Rep. Trent Franks said, “Our consciences need to catch up with our technology.”
Franks said protecting the lives of all Americans — “especially those who can’t defend themselves” — was the reason members are here. He called late-term abortion “the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today.”
“This is a vote all of us will remember the rest of our lives,” Franks said.
Speaker John A. Boehner also spoke from the floor in support of the bill. He called the measure “the most pro-life legislation to ever come before this body,” and, choking back tears, he said his parents often reminded him and his 11 siblings that every child is a gift from God.
“A vote for this bill is a vote to protect innocent lives and to protect our dearest values for generations to come,” the Ohio Republican said.
But Democrats maintained that the bill was, in Rep. Steve Cohen’s words, “patently unconstitutional.”
“This bill is not about viability,” the Tennessee Democrat said. “It’s a subterfuge for viability and talks about the issue of pain. Pain is not the issue; viability is the issue.”
Democrats also maintained the bill is still insensitive to rape survivors. Conyers called the new rape exception provisions “grounded in the distrust of women.” He said the bill assumes women can not be trusted to tell the truth, “to make the best medical decisions for themselves and their families.”
Debate on the bill was spirited Wednesday, with members breaking out into sporadic rounds of floor applause — applause that is against chamber rules. When Ann Wagner, R-Mo., continued to speak after her time was expired — and after the presiding officer, Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, reminded Wagner that her time had expired — Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee could be heard from the other side of the floor saying, “It’s expired.”
But despite the high tensions, the bill — which faces an unclear future in the Senate and almost certainly would be vetoed by President Barack Obama — would only affect a small number of abortions. According to 2011 Centers for Disease Control figures, approximately 1.4 percent of abortions were performed after 21 weeks, and the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 10,000 abortions take place after 20 weeks.
Annie Shuppy contributed to this report.
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