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Some Conservative Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over House 20-Week Abortion Ban

Some Conservative Lawmakers Raise Concerns Over House 20-Week Abortion Ban

January 20, 2015 — Several conservative lawmakers have raised concerns about plans to vote on a bill (HR 36) that would ban abortions after 20 week of pregnancy, National Journal reports (Newhauser, National Journal, 1/16).

Background

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and the date of the antiabortion-rights March for Life (French/Sherman, Politico, 1/16). The measure would allow abortions after 20 weeks only in certain cases of rape and incest, and endangerment to a woman's life.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also plans to hold a vote on a 20-week ban sometime in the spring, according to aides and Republican senators. However, the legislation likely will fall short of the necessary votes for passage in the Senate (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/12).

Most Republicans support the bill, and a similar measure received the votes of all but six Republican House members in 2013, according to National Journal (National Journal, 1/16). The bill, which is based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development, is expected to pass the House (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/12).

Concerns Over Bill

Several GOP lawmakers in a closed-door meeting last week argued that bringing up the bill could hurt Republicans politically by decreasing support from young people and distracting from the party's message on the economy.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) said, "I have urged leadership to reconsider bringing it up [this] week." She added, "We got into trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we're moving forward. The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn't be on an issue where we know that millennials -- social issues just aren't as important [to them]" (National Journal, 1/16).

In addition, at least six conservative lawmakers, including Ellmers, have raised concern about the bill's language, which mandates that a rape survivor must formally report the rape to police in order to be able to legally have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The lawmakers expressed concern to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) during the meeting that such a requirement could dissuade survivors from reporting rapes. According to Politico, they are urging Scalise to rewrite the legislation with a broader exemption for cases of rape before it comes to the House floor.

Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Diana DeGette (Colo.) said in a statement that the formal reporting requirement for rape survivors would be "unconscionable." They added, "Forcing women to go on-the-record about such a traumatic experience as a prerequisite to getting help is unconscionable, and adds to the pain of women who are survivors of rape or incest" (Politico, 1/16).

NYT: 20-Week Ban, State Restrictions Offer 'No Letup' in Abortion-Rights Restrictions

"The start of 2015 finds no letup in the attacks on a woman's constitutionally protected right to make her own childbearing decisions," states a New York Times editorial. The editorial adds that while abortion-rights supporters work "to block or at least minimize new restrictive laws" on abortion in Texas and other states, lawmakers in Congress and "legislatures in states like Missouri and Tennessee are gearing up to pile on more restrictions."

For example, the editorial notes that Congress has proposed "six bills reviving old, bad ideas," including a 20-week abortion ban that would "flou[t] the Supreme Court's standard of fetal viability, generally put at 22 to 24 weeks post-fertilization." According to the Times, the measure "contains no exception to protect a woman's health, as current law mandates, or for the majority of rapes and incest crimes that go unreported."

Instead, the legislation's "dangerously constricted exception for situations in which a woman’s life is in jeopardy would require women to wait until their condition becomes life-threatening before terminating a pregnancy." Further, the Times notes that the bill "would force women to decide whether to go forward with a pregnancy before learning of a major fetal abnormality or serious risks to their own health."

Meanwhile, the bill's "[c]riminal penalties, fines and reporting requirements would scare off doctors from helping women in need of competent and compassionate care," the Times continues.

The Times states, "Republicans scoff at accusations that they are waging a war against women. But this should not obscure a basic fact: The ability of women to control their reproductive lives is essential for their health, careers and equality" (New York Times, 1/20).