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Democratic Sens. Quick To Denounce 20-Week Abortion Ban Bill

Democratic Sens. Quick To Denounce 20-Week Abortion Ban Bill

November 8, 2013 — Democratic lawmakers and abortion-rights groups on Thursday sharply criticized a new bill (S 1670) that would ban abortion nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, CQ Roll Call reports (Attias, CQ Roll Call, 11/7).

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Thursday proposed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would make it illegal to perform or try to perform an abortion without first attempting to determine the age of the fetus since fertilization. If the fetus is found to be 20 weeks or older, providers cannot perform an abortion unless the woman's life is in danger in certain circumstances or the pregnancy resulted from incest of a minor or rape, and the incest or rape has been reported to legal authorities. Providers who perform procedures under the bill's exceptions would have to take steps to ensure that the fetus has "the best opportunity" to survive, unless doing so would endanger the woman's life or pose serious bodily harm to her.

Providers who violate the law would face imprisonment of up to five years, fines or both. The woman could not be prosecuted under the bill.

The bill is similar to a measure (HR 1797) that passed the House earlier this year, except that the Senate version does not include a constitutional enumeration asserting that Congress has authority to pass a nationwide ban. The House version pointed to both the Commerce Clause and the 14th Amendment as justification for such authority (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/7).

Democrats Lambast Bill in Floor Speeches 

During floor speeches on Thursday, Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pledged to fight the bill. "We are here today to make one thing abundantly clear, and that is that this extreme, unconstitutional abortion ban is an absolute non-starter," Murray said in her speech. She called the legislation "blatantly political," adding, "It is going nowhere in the Senate and those Republicans know it" (CQ Roll Call, 11/7).

Murray also said, "We're not going to take a woman's ability to make her own decisions about her own healthcare and her own body." She added, "Women are not going back to the time when laws forced them into back alleys and made them subject to primitive and unsanitary care" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 11/7).

Blumenthal said, "We should be here debating the issues that really concern and confront the American people at this historic, challenging time -- not a measure that will be struck down by the courts because it is so plainly unconstitutional and so clearly bad policy, not just for women but for men and families and for all of us" (CQ Roll Call, 11/7).

Abortion-Rights Groups Voice Opposition

Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, "Blatantly disregarding the protections of the U.S. Constitution and the health, rights and dignity of women nationwide, this bill once again seeks to insert politicians between women and their doctors in complicated, highly personal medical decisions" (Rosen, McClatchy/Miami Herald, 11/7).

Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, said, "Once you start talking about the real-life consequences on real life people, the conversation shifts, and we can definitely defeat this legislation on these terms."

Meanwhile, NARAL Pro-Choice America launched a national TV spot featuring a woman who describes her decision to have an abortion after learning of fetal abnormalities after 20 weeks of pregnancy. According to National Journal, the Senate bill would not allow exceptions for such abnormalities, which often cannot be detected until a 20-week ultrasound.

GOP Sees Bill as Political Rallying Point

According to National Journal, opposition to abortion rights remains a unifying issue for the GOP, particularly as the party attempts to navigate a growing divide between an ideological grassroots contingent and the conservative establishment. Conservatives also hope that raising the 20-week debate will "flip the political script" and enable them to portray Democrats as "outside the mainstream," National Journal reports (Reinhard, National Journal, 11/8).

At a press conference on Thursday, Graham -- joined by bill co-sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and six women who are active in the antiabortion-rights movement -- said it is time "to do more" to stop abortion "[i]n light of medicine and what we know about the unborn child" ("Healthwatch, The Hill, 11/7).

As of Thursday, the bill had 33 Republican co-sponsors, representing about 75% of all GOP senators (McClatchy/Miami Herald, 11/7). Graham acknowledged the bill likely will not pass the Senate, but he said support would grow as the public gains a better understanding of the issue. "I just think this is worthy of a great nation to have this debate," he said (CQ Roll Call, 11/7).

The bill's supporters also took aim at the Democratic opposition. Graham said, "Any Democrat who is for late-term abortions would probably be a loser in the eyes of the electorate as a whole."

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said the bill "will be very mobilizing politically and mobilizing electorally" (National Journal, 11/8).