Congressional Republicans Want to Ban Common Second-Trimester Abortion Procedure

This marks the latest chapter in a decades-old strategy by the anti-choice movement to target specific abortion procedures.

This marks the latest chapter in a decades-old strategy by the anti-choice movement to target specific abortion procedures. Shutterstock

Congressional Republicans introduced a bill Wednesday that would criminalize a common medical procedure used after miscarriages and during second-trimester abortions. Similar legislation has been passed on the state level, and it is the latest chapter in a decades-old strategy by the anti-choice movement to target specific abortion procedures.

HR 3515, introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the House Pro-Life Caucus, defines “dismemberment abortion” as “knowingly dismembering a living unborn child and extracting such unborn child one piece at a time from the uterus through the use of clamps, grasping forceps, tongs, scissors or similar instruments.”

The so-called The Dismemberment Abortion Ban Act is copycat legislation crafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). 

The legislation targets the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments. During the procedure, the fetus is usually removed in parts.

Prior to 14 weeks’ gestation, abortions are usually performed using suction aspiration, but after 14 weeks the D and E procedure must be used, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Depending upon the specific language of the law, D and E abortion bans may effectively ban all surgical abortion past 14 weeks’ gestation.

“This ban would require an often unnecessary procedure of injecting a lethal agent into the womb and/or fetal heart to stop cardiac activity,” Dr. Leah Torres, an OB-GYN with specialized training in abortion care and reproductive health, told Rewire. “This carries its own health and life risks to the pregnant person.”

The NRLC claims that the D and E abortion procedure “largely overlaps” with the dilation and extraction (D and X) abortion procedure, often described as “partial-birth abortion.”

However, there are “distinct” differences between the D and E and D and X procedures, according to the American Medical Association.

Proponents of legislation to ban the D and E abortion procedure often cite Justice Anthony Kennedy’s dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart, a case that challenged the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003.

“The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn limb from limb,” Kennedy wrote. “The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.”

Kennedy’s dissenting opinion, which is at odds with standard medical care used during D and E abortion procedures, set the stage for the current legislative assault on abortion care.

Similar legislation has been introduced in seven states this year, and was signed into law by the governors of Kansas and Oklahoma. Lawmakers in other states are expected to introduce similar legislation during the 2016 legislative sessions, and Arkansas Republicans plan to do so during the 2017 legislative session.

The attacks on abortion care in Congress and state legislatures also come at a time when lawmakers have attacked Planned Parenthood after secretly recorded and deceptively edited videos published by an anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress.

A lawmaker in Nebraska last month introduced legislation to ban D and E abortion, and cited the series of CMP videos published as providing an opportunity to go after reproductive rights.

“This Planned Parenthood stuff is so vulgar. I mean, it’s beyond words,” state Sen. Tommy Garrett (R-Bellevue) told the Lincoln Journal-Star while speaking about the discredited attack videos distributed by CMP in coordination with Republican lawmakers. “It’s like baby body parts are commodities to be traded on the open market.”

The NRLC announcement of the bill’s introduction also named three co-sponsors of the legislation, including Rep. Vicki Hartzler (R-MO), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. The full text of Smith’s bill is not yet available.