Banning late-term abortion services is a popular anti-choice tactic that is currently advancing in states across the country. It’s a successful strategy partly because abortion opponents can exploit gruesome cases — such as the murder trial of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor who is accused of performing horrific, illegal late-term abortion services for vulnerable women — to play on Americans’ emotions. That’s exactly what Franks is doing this time around. He claims that forcing a 20-week ban on the nation’s capital city will help keep attention on the Gosnell case.
Abortion opponents claim that late-term abortions prove that abortion procedures are always violent and immoral. In reality, however, these type of much later abortions are incredibly rare, and the women who seek them out are typically in desperate circumstances. Women who may need an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy tend to fall into one of two categories: the economically disadvantaged women who need to delay abortion until they can save up the money for it, and the women who discover serious fetal health issues only after their pregnancy has advanced. 20-week abortion bans don’t actually help put an end to the types of illegal procedures that Gosnell performed; in fact, they simply serve to cut off reproductive health options for these kinds of vulnerable women.
Nonetheless, because the women who live in the District of Columbia don’t have any representation in Congress, their reproductive rights are often left to the whim of Republican lawmakers whom they didn’t actually elect. In addition to Franks, other Republicans often attempt to use DC’s budget negotiations — which currently have to be approved by Congress, since DC doesn’t have the autonomy to appropriate its own funds — to attach anti-abortion riders. Congress has repeatedly prevented DC from using its Medicaid funding from covering low-income women’s abortion services.
Last week, DC held a special election that included a referendum for local budget autonomy, which would prevent Congress from banning its Medicaid coverage of abortion in the future. Unfortunately, budget autonomy won’t prevent lawmakers like Franks from pushing for other types of abortion bans for the District’s residents.