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Bill Would Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks in District of Columbia

Bill Would Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks in District of Columbia

January 24, 2011 — Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) on Monday announced legislation that would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks of gestation in Washington, D.C., The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/24). The bill -- called the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act -- is based on model legislation from the National Right to Life Committee, which claims that fetuses can feel pain around 20 weeks. State legislatures in Alabama, Idaho, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas have approved similar legislation.

The legislation would allow abortion after 20 weeks only to save a woman "whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself, but not including psychological or emotional conditions or any claim or diagnosis that the woman will engage in conduct which she intends to result in her death."

The bill is attracting opposition from advocates for D.C. budget autonomy. Ilir Zherka, executive director of D.C. Vote, said that although his organization does not take a position on abortion rights, it does "have a very strong position on who gets to decide that question [in the district], and it's D.C. residents."

In a statement issued on Friday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) pledged opposition to the bill. "We do not intend to succumb to the insatiable Republican obsession with interfering with the rights of women in our city," Norton said (DeBonis, "District of DeBonis," Washington Post, 1/20).

Franks released the bill in conjunction with an annual antiabortion-rights event in D.C. that marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/24). House Speaker John Boehner and several other members of Congress spoke at the event (Nuckols, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23).

Election-Year Politics

Franks said he hopes the bill will draw attention to abortion-related issues and President Obama's record going into the presidential election. According to "Healthwatch," polls show voters do not view abortion as a major issue in the election.

A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that respondents did not rank abortion among their top eight issues when asked an open-ended question about what matters most to them. Similarly, a CBS/New York Times poll found that respondents ranked abortion last among five issues that matter to them in the presidential election, with 3% choosing that option. The majority -- 56% -- said the economy is the most important issue ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 1/24).

NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a statement, "Anti-choice politicians and their allies promised to focus on creating jobs, yet they are attacking a woman's right to choose at near-record levels." She added, "This extreme agenda is out of touch with our country's values and priorities" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23).