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Planned Parenthood Rally in New York City, 2011. (Photo: Charlotte Cooper/flickr/cc)

GOP House Approves 'Blatantly Unconstitutional' Abortion Ban

"Let's get one thing straight: This bill is a dangerous attempt to restrict women's access to safe and legal abortion, and chip away at abortion access completely."

Deirdre Fulton

Update (5:40 pm EDT):

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that would ban abortion in the United States after 20 weeks—legislation that women's health advocates described as "cruel and unconstitutional."

See the full roll call here.

Following the vote, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, released the following statement:

The politicians behind this bill clearly learned nothing from the outrage provoked earlier this year by its gross intrusions into women’s private lives and decisions.

As if it weren’t enough to severely limit women’s options for confronting potentially devastating challenges during their pregnancies, this noxious legislation would also require rape survivors to undergo additional medical care or counseling whether they want it or not.

This bill is a danger to women’s lives and well-being, an affront to their dignity, and a threat to the rights and liberties all Americans hold dear. Congress must reject this callous and unconstitutional bill.


The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives will vote Wednesday on what women's health advocates say is a "blatantly unconstitutional" nationwide 20-week abortion ban.

"Let's get one thing straight: This bill is a dangerous attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and chip away at abortion access completely," Planned Parenthood Action Fund warned in advance of the vote.

Known as the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," H.R. 36 is sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and would ban abortions after 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

The chamber is poised to pass the proposal, with lawmakers having tweaked its language after being forced to pull the legislation from the House floor earlier this year based on objections from some GOP women who were concerned about a requirement that rape victims report their assaults to law enforcement in order to qualify for an exemption to the abortion prohibition.

"Make no bones about it, 20-week abortion bans are unconstitutional. Full stop."
—Imani Gandy, RH Reality Check

According to The Hill, "The new version unveiled Monday eliminates the language on rape victims, though it does not change a provision that allows victims of incest to receive an abortion only if they are under 18 years old."

The revamped bill still stipulates that sexual assault victims seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy must have "obtained counseling" or "medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape" at least 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure, according to Talking Points Memo. In the case of minors who are victims of sexual assault or incest, abortion providers still must notify either law enforcement or social services.

And TPM adds:

Lawmakers added other sweeteners to the bill to keep abortion opponents on board, including a provision that says that late-term abortion providers must seek medical care for a fetus if it appears to be capable of survival outside of the womb.

For Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF), all this means "the new version of H.R. 36 is even worse than the prior version, revealing that there is only one thing that extreme anti-choice politicians can agree upon: denying women accessible medical care." Besides being "blatantly unconstitutional," she said, the bill is "a threat to women’s lives and health, and at odds with medical standards of care."

"These harsh penalties would have the effect of chilling the provision of abortion care in the United States, which is in fact one of the goals of the bills' supporters."
—Vicki Saporta, National Abortion Federation

The new provision for adult rape survivors amounts to a "cruel and unnecessary two-day waiting period," the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) agreed in a statement.

What's more, Saporta warned, the bill would impose nationwide federal criminal penalties, including five years in jail, on medical professionals if they provide abortion care in violation of the legislation.

"These harsh penalties would have the effect of chilling the provision of abortion care in the United States, which is in fact one of the goals of the bills’ supporters," she added.

By pushing such bans on the state and federal level, anti-choice politicians are ignoring the fact that "[c]ourts have consistently smacked down legislative attempts to ban abortions at 20 weeks," as RH Reality Check senior legal analyst Imani Gandy noted on Tuesday.

Gandy wrote: "Make no bones about it, 20-week abortion bans are unconstitutional. Full stop. They’ve been unconstitutional since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, and they will remain unconstitutional unless one of two things happens: the U.S. Supreme Court either overturns its landmark decision or reverses 40 years’ worth of case law about the importance of fetal viability."

But neither constitutional concerns, nor the fact that the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate—and would almost certainly be vetoed by President Barack Obama—seems to deter the far-right on this issue.

"Remember, for House Republican leaders, this is about passing an abortion ban just to pass an abortion ban," wrote Steve Benen, producer for the Rachel Maddow Show, at MSNBC this week. "The chamber has real work to do, but it’s investing time in a measure that everyone involved already realizes won’t become law."

That's because "Republicans say they are playing a long game," The Hill reports. "They hope that, over time, support for prohibiting most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy will become widespread."

To that end, the GOP is employing lawmakers in state legislatures as well. According to RH Reality Check, in 2015 alone, 12 states have introduced 19 laws banning abortion after 20 weeks: Illinois (HB 3561), Iowa (SF 91), Kentucky (HB 393), Maryland (HB 961, SB 511, and HB 492), Massachusetts (H 1550), New Mexico (HB 390), Ohio (HB 117 and SB 127), Oregon (HB 2388), South Carolina (H 3114, S 28, S 130, and S 25) Virginia (HB 2321), and West Virginia (HB 2568 and HB 2153). Only one—West Virginia’s—has become law.

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