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House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban

House Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban

May 14, 2015 — The House on Wednesday voted 242-184 to pass a revised version of a bill (HR 36) that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, the New York Times reports (Huetteman, New York Times, 5/13).

According to the Washington Post, the measure faces opposition among abortion-rights supporters in the Senate, and President Obama has said he will veto the bill should it gain congressional approval (Somashekhar, Washington Post, 5/13). Nonetheless, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Wednesday said he soon would introduce a similar measure in the Senate (Schoof, McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 5/13).

Background

House leaders originally planned to vote on a version of the bill on Jan. 22 -- the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- but changed course after some conservative lawmakers raised concerns about a requirement that a rape survivor would have to formally report the rape to police to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Bill Details

Though lawmakers tweaked the original language permitting limited exceptions in cases of rape, adult rape survivors would still be required to meet strict restrictions, before obtaining abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy under the revised bill. Specifically, abortion care would only be permitted if the woman receives counseling or medical care at least 48 hours prior to the procedure.

Meanwhile, the revised bill maintains reporting requirements for rape or incest survivors who are minors, allowing them to obtain abortion care after 20 weeks of pregnancy only if the incident has been reported to a law enforcement agency or a government agency that deals with child abuse. The bill would not provide exemptions in cases of incest for adults.

The revised measure also includes provisions that would require women seeking abortion later in pregnancy to sign an "informed consent" form and make physicians who violate the bill liable for civil action (Women's Health Policy Report, 5/13). Criminal penalties, including up to five years’ imprisonment, are also permitted for certain violations (Bill text, 5/7).

Comments

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) said that the revised legislation is "a better bill" (McClatchy/Sacramento Bee, 5/13).

Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, condemned the "dangerous, unconstitutional, national 20-week abortion ban." She said, "It would insert politicians into the relationship between women and their health care providers, depriving women of the ability to make extremely personal medical decisions with the people they trust" (NPWF statement, 5/13).

Similarly, Gretchen Borchelt, the National Women's Law Center's vice president for health and reproductive rights, said the vote shows that conservative lawmakers believe that "politics -- not medical expertise or a woman's health -- should drive important health care decisions." She added, "Passing an unconstitutional nationwide ban on later abortions does nothing to help women -- instead, it threatens their health and lives and interferes in their personal medical decisions" (Walsh, CNN, 5/14).

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Wednesday added that the legislation is "dangerous and misguided" (Washington Post, 5/13).

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday before the vote said the legislation "would ... impose ... additional harsh burdens on survivors of sexual assault, rape and incest" (Cooney, Reuters, 5/13).