Wednesday, an all-male panel of House Judiciary Committee members, led by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), passed a 20-week abortion ban. The bill, HR 1797, passed out of the Judiciary Committee by a vote of 20 to 12. The vote count fell along party lines, with the exception of Congressman Pedro Pierluisi (D-PR), the only Democrat who voted in favor.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has promised a floor vote on the bill next week.
This is a dangerous piece of legislation. It is based on false and completely disproven assertions about “evidence” of fetal pain; it makes legislators, rather than doctors, the arbiters of gestational age; and it would result in the trial and imprisonment of medical professionals who provide safe abortion care. Yet in what can only be called an irresponsible quest for what they call “balance,” many media outlets are assisting in the perpetuation of lies about a critical aspect of reproductive health care in support of policies that will deeply harm women and criminalize providers.
As currently written, Franks’ bill would create an absolute ban on abortions in the United States after 20 weeks post-fertilization, for any reason, under any circumstance, except the imminent risk of death of the pregnant person, which as the cases of Beatriz and Savita Halappanavar have shown is not exactly reassuring. Contrary to misreporting by the Washington Post and the Associated Press, it is not a “reaction” to the trial of Kermit Gosnell, but simply the newest iteration of a bill Franks has been pushing for years — and he is using the Gosnell case as an excuse to expand the bill from a focus “only” on the District of Columbia to a nationwide ban.
It is no secret that the GOP is out to ban all abortions in the United States, no matter the costs to women’s lives and health, nor the costs to families and society writ large. When they are not acting to ban abortions outright, legislatures controlled by the GOP and Tea Party are passing unnecessary and costly regulations intended to close clinics run by legitimate providers of safe abortion care, and creating hoops through which patients must jump to get safe abortion care intended to raise the costs of early abortion and to humiliate and shame women, plain and simple.
The GOP and anti-choice movement’s claims about “caring for women” are belied by the fact that passage of a bill that would create blanket restrictions on safe abortion care, would remove health-care decisions from the hands of doctors and the women who are their patients — and would guarantee that criminal actors such as Kermit Gosnell get plenty of business.
The ostensible premise of HR 1797 — and others like it at the state level — is that a fetus at or past 20 weeks post-fertilization “feels pain.” This is an assertion that has been rejected by every relevant major medical body in the United States and abroad.
In the findings section of the bill, for example, the text asserts the following (condensed here):
After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human, for example, by recoiling…. In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response…. Subjection to such painful stimuli is associated with long-term harmful neurodevelopmental effects, such as altered pain sensitivity and, possibly, emotional, behavioral, and learning disabilities later in life.
It further states (emphasis added):
The position, asserted by some medical experts, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization predominately rests on the assumption that the ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex. However, recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.
The intention here is clearly to deceive.