House Republicans wasted no time attacking reproductive rights in the new Congress.
On Tuesday afternoon, the first day in session for the 114th Congress, Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) re-introduced a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks—a popular measure among anti-choice legislators in statehouses nationwide.
HR 36, the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, relies on the discredited notion that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, and would directly challenge Roe v. Wade since it would ban abortion several weeks before a fetus is viable outside the womb.
The move didn’t come as a shock to pro-choice representatives, given that the bill passed the Republican-dominated House last year.
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“It is unfortunate, but not surprising, how quickly the GOP has moved to introduce this extreme measure that has nothing to do with advancing the priorities that Americans care about, but has everything to do with preventing women from making decisions that are right for their bodies and families,” Sean Bartlett, spokesperson for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), told Rewire.
Anti-choice groups have aggressively lobbied Congress to move this and other bills restricting reproductive freedom, and lawmakers like Franks and Blackburn have proved happy to oblige.
In an email to supporters of the anti-choice lobbying group Susan B. Anthony List, SBA List vice president and former congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave called Franks and Blackburn “two of my closest friends in the House.”
Franks has championed 20-week abortion bans at the federal level for several years, even though a similar ban was ruled unconstitutional in his own State of Arizona. He started off pushing for “pain-capable” restrictions only for the District of Columbia, but grisly headlines about criminal abortion provider Kermit Gosnell gave him the excuse he needed to push for a nationwide 20-week ban.
Blackburn took up the cause last year after Franks made embarrassing comments about the bill not needing an exception for rape since “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.”
Invoking Gosnell has been a favorite strategy of Republicans eager to disgust Americans with the idea that abortions after 20 weeks are “late-term.” The 20-week mark falls in the middle of the second trimester, and is the point in pregnancy at which many devastating fetal anomalies are detected.
Moreover, a majority of Americans support abortion rights after 20 weeks and before viability once they are made aware of the real-life circumstances women face.
Major medical groups such as the American Medical Association and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree that the fetal nervous system isn’t developed enough to feel pain before the third trimester.
Doctors who testify to the contrary have a well-documented history of making false statements on behalf of the anti-choice movement, such as Dr. Byron C. Calhoun, who testified before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012 in favor of a 20-week abortion ban.
It’s unclear when a companion bill might be introduced in the U.S. Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has promised to bring up the 20-week ban for a vote.