National Partnership for Women & Families

In the News

House Approves Nationwide Ban on Abortions After 20 Weeks

House Approves Nationwide Ban on Abortions After 20 Weeks

June 19, 2013 — The House on Tuesday voted 228-196 to approve a bill (HR 1797) that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

According to the Journal, the bill is not expected to become law, given that the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to consider it and the White House has threatened a veto (Hook, Wall Street Journal, 6/18). Nonetheless, the vote -- which fell mostly along party lines -- "could reverberate politically" during special elections this year in Massachusetts and New Jersey, and through the 2014 midterms, the Washington Post reports (Eilperin, Washington Post, 6/18).

Bill Details

The bill, proposed by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed theory that fetuses can experience pain at that point.

The bill originally only would have allowed an exception to save a woman's life in certain instances, but it was revised in committee after Franks made controversial remarks about the incidence of pregnancy resulting from rape. The changes allow exceptions in instances of incest of a minor or rape if either type of incident has been reported "at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency" (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/18).

The bill marks the first time Congress has voted to ban abortion prior to viability, which is generally considered to be at about 24 weeks of gestation (Washington Post, 6/18).

The measure also represents the most restrictive major abortion bill to pass the House since 2003, when the chamber approved a bill banning a specific type of abortion procedure (Wall Street Journal, 6/18).

House Debate

Opponents of HR 1797 argued that it is unconstitutional. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said, "Since Roe v. Wade, it has been well-settled law that no bill is constitutional that bans abortions before viability, which is later than [20-weeks]" (Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 6/18).

Other Democrats contended that GOP leaders' consideration of the bill shows the party is out of touch with voters. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said, "Unfortunately, many of our Republican colleagues didn't seem to have gotten [the] message last November" that "Americans are tired of Congress taking up extreme and divisive legislation targeted at women's health" (Smith/Gibson, Politico, 6/19).

The New York Times notes that Republicans presented an "intentionally far different" image during the House debate than in committee, when all 19 Republicans who supported the bill were men. On Tuesday, nearly all 19 women in the 234-member GOP caucus spoke about the bill (Peters, New York Times, 6/18).

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) after the vote said the legislation was timely and appropriate. "After this Kermit Gosnell trial and some of the horrific acts that were going on, the vast majority of the American people believe in the substance of this bill," he said (Davis, USA Today, 6/19).

Franks expressed support for the decision to make Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Texas) manager of the floor debate, noting that it would help counter arguments from opponents who "tried to talk about everything but the bill." He added, "They've injected false issues, they've said it's all men, they've said all these things that are really ancillary issues," but they have not "addressed the bill directly, and the bill simply protects mothers and their unborn children from ... monsters like Kermit Gosnell" (Politico, 6/19).