The U.S. House passed on Tuesday a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation in a largely party-line vote. The measure is a major pro-life legislative priority, but it is expected to fail in the Senate.
“The New England Journal of Medicine has documented that premature babies are surviving earlier and earlier, yet our nations laws fail to protect these children,” stated Maureen Ferguson, senior policy advisor with The Catholic Association. The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act late in the afternoon of Oct. 3 by a vote of 237 to 189, largely along party lines.
The chamber also passed a version of the bill in 2015; but Tuesday’s bill, as in 2015, is expected to fail in the Senate. If it were to be signed into law, the bill would “not only save between 11,000-18,000 lives a year, but will serve to educate the public on the humanity of the unborn person and affirm the science of fetal pain early in development,” said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.”
It bans most abortions past 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at stake. Pro-life leaders have pointed to studies which say that unborn babies can feel pain by 20 weeks post-fertilization, and that a small number can actually survive with the proper medical care, if born at that stage of the pregnancy.
“The fact is that more than 18,000 late-term, pain capable unborn babies were torturously killed without anesthesia in America in just the last year,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who introduced the bill, said on the House Floor Monday evening. “It is the worst human rights atrocity in the history of the United States of America.”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, chair of the Pro-Life Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, asked House members to support the bill in a Sept. 29 letter. “We hold that every child, from conception onward, deserves love and the protection of the law. We believe that no person or government has the right to take the life of an innocent human being – and we hold that the real problems that lead women to consider abortion should be addressed with solutions that support both mother and child,” Cardinal Dolan wrote.
“Stories of children being born earlier in pregnancy, as early as 20 weeks post-fertilization, are becoming more common,” he wrote. “These procedures after the middle point of pregnancy also pose serious dangers to women – as evidenced by a disturbing number of news stories about the death or serious complications of women undergoing such procedures.”
Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) said in a floor statement supporting the bill that “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will moderate our extreme position and ensure we protect the most vulnerable – like Micah Pickering, a lively five-year-old I met last week.” He explained that Micah was born prematurely, at the age childen would be protected by the bill: “Micah was able to survive and thrive after spending more than four months in the neonatal intensive care unit. He is now in kindergarten, and I found out when talking to him that we share a love of Legos.”
“The bottom line is this: 20 weeks is halfway through a pregnancy. It’s too late to end the life of an unborn baby,” Hultgren stated. “It violates what Americans want, it violates science, and it violates our country’s most enduring values.”
The White House has promised to sign the bill if it passes both chambers, in line with a promise that President Donald Trump made on the campaign trail to sign certain pro-life bills if they were sent to his desk. “The bill, if enacted into law, would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our Nation aspires,” the White House stated on Tuesday. “The United States is currently out of the mainstream in the family of nations, in which only 7 out of 198 nations allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” Among those seven countries are China and North Korea.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, stated on Tuesday that “This bill, which the President has promised to sign, would get us out of that disgraceful club and bring our laws into line with basic human decency.” She noted that 20 states have already passed versions of the bill. If the bill fails in the Senate, Dannenfelser told CNA last week that Susan B. Anthony List will begin working to ensure that enough pro-life candidates are elected in 2018 to build a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. “We are preparing for 2018 Senate elections,” Dannenfelser said. “What we’re doing is we’re building that Senate up to a 60-vote margin.”