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Abortion-Rights Supporters, Opponents Prepare for Senate Debate Over 20-Week Abortion Ban

Abortion-Rights Supporters, Opponents Prepare for Senate Debate Over 20-Week Abortion Ban

December 8, 2014 — Abortion-rights opponents and supporters are "gearing up" for a debate over legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in light of gains Republicans made in the Senate during the midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reports (Reinhard, Wall Street Journal, 12/7).

After the midterm elections, abortion-rights opponents said they would pressure Senate Republicans to hold votes on antiabortion-rights measures now that they will have the majority of seats in the chamber. Further, incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this year promised to hold a vote in the Senate on a 20-week abortion ban (S 1670) if the GOP gained control of the Senate. A similar measure (HR 1797) passed the House in 2013 (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/6).

Last week, a spokesperson for McConnell said the senator "look[s] forward to having the Senate consider similar legislation in the next Congress."

Supporters Say Timing is Right, But Acknowledge Difficulties

According to the Journal, abortion-rights supporters and opponents are preparing for a debate over such a bill in 2015 because many of the GOP candidates who won Senate seats in the midterm elections had support from antiabortion-rights organizations, including incoming GOP Sens. Bill Cassidy (La.), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Joni Ernst (Iowa) and Thom Tillis (N.C.).

Abortion-rights opponents contend that a growing number of 20-week abortion bans at the state-level have helped "build momentum" for federal legislation on the issue, the Journal reports. Penny Nance, president of the religious conservative group Concerned Women for America, said, "This is going to be a put-up-or-shut-up moment."

However, abortion-rights opponents also have acknowledged that passing a 20-week abortion ban could be difficult, especially since GOP leaders are focusing their attention on other issues as they prepare for the 2016 presidential election. In addition, any 20-week abortion ban would require support from almost all 54 Senate Republicans and at least some Democrats to defeat a potential filibuster, the Journal reports. Meanwhile, the White House has already implied that President Obama would veto such a measure.

Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser noted that "[g]etting a vote is the beginning piece," adding, "It's going to be tough to get to 60 votes and this may take a couple of rounds, but we're going on offense."

Opponents: Ban Aims To Undermine Roe v. Wade, Threatens GOP Chances in 2016

Meanwhile, abortion-rights supporters have said a 20-week abortion ban is designed to overturn Roe v. Wade, noting that such a law would restrict the abortion rights women are guaranteed under the Supreme Court's decision in the case.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said that while a 20-week abortion ban "might sound like a good idea ... once people understand the real-life impact on women and their medical care, that's where folks turn." She added, "The ultimate goal of these bans is to make abortion illegal in this country, and this would be a step along that path."

Further, Richards said supporting such issues could be risky for conservatives facing re-election. She warned, "Anybody in the U.S. Senate should think long and hard before voting to restrict access to abortion. This will be an issue in 2016" (Wall Street Journal, 12/7).