The legislation, spearheaded by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and strongly endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, would criminalize abortion services after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That cut-off is based on the scientifically-disputed notion that fetuses begin to feel pain around 20 weeks — even though women have a constitutional right to abortion services until the point of viability, generally understood to occur around 24 weeks of pregnancy, under Roe v. Wade.
The bill is likely to pass the House, since anti-abortion Republicans hold the majority. But Democrats in the Senate are frustrated about being forced to waste their time on a doomed vote when it comes up in their chamber. The last time a 20-week abortion ban came before Congress, even moderate Republicans complained that they would rather focus their time on other priorities, like creating jobs. This year, lawmakers could spend their efforts working to restore the devastating sequester cuts instead of holding largely symbolic votes on abortion.
Franks has repeatedly attempted to impose his anti-abortion agenda on the women who live in the nation’s capital. His 20-week ban initially applied only to Washington, DC, but he recently decided to broaden it to restrict reproductive rights nationwide. In a statement announcing his amendment to the abortion bill, the Arizona congressman explained that the horrific crimes of illegal abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell inspired him to expand the scope of his measure. “The trial of Kermit Gosnell exposed late abortions for what they really are: relocated infanticide,” Franks wrote. “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.”
Other anti-abortion lawmakers have also attempted to leverage the outrage surrounding Gosnell’s high-profile murder trial to push for restricting abortion rights, twisting the facts to make it appear as if all abortion doctors are guilty of similar crimes. But eliminating access to late-term abortion services isn’t necessarily the best way to keep women safe; in fact, that move could actually force more desperate women to resort to illegal, dangerous providers like Gosnell when they don’t have any other options left.
Banning late-term abortion services is a popular anti-choice tactic to chip away at Roe v. Wade and narrow the window during which women can access legal abortion services. But 20-week bans haven’t been able to hold up in court. Just last month, an appeals court struck down a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona, and similar measures have been blocked in Idaho and Georgia.