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#EndTheLies, Declare Reproductive Rights Advocates as Senate GOP Pushes 20-Week Abortion Ban

"The provocative, inaccurate lies about abortion being spread by this administration and its allies completely strip pregnant people of their dignity and medical needs, putting their health in jeopardy."

Pro-choice advocates

Pro-choice advocates hold signs from the ACLU promoting reproductive rights. (Photo: ACLU of Oregon)

Reproductive rights advocates came together on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning to combat misinformation used by Republican lawmakers to push anti-choice legislation—including a bill currently before Congress that would impose a nationwide 20-week abortion ban.

"Instead of listening to the expertise of medical organizations, healthcare providers, and the real-life situations of patients and families, anti-abortion politicians used this hearing to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion care."
—Dr. Kristyn Brandi, PRH

Pro-choice advocates' demands to #StopTheBans and #EndTheLies came in response to a 10am Senate Judiciary Committee hearing called by Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to promote the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (S.160), which the senator has sponsored since 2013.

"This hearing is a political stunt that has real consequences," said Dr. Kristyn Brandi of Physicians for Reproductive Health (PRH).

"Instead of listening to the expertise of medical organizations, healthcare providers, and the real-life situations of patients and families, anti-abortion politicians used this hearing to spread misinformation and stigma about abortion care," Brandi added. "This is plain wrong."

Under Graham's proposed legislation, a healthcare provider who performs or attempts to perform the procedure after 20 weeks post-fertilization could be fined, jailed for up to five years, or both. The only exceptions for the time limit would be to save the life of the pregnant person and cases of rape or incest.

Graham claimed during his opening remarks at the hearing that "there is significant scientific evidence that abortion inflicts tremendous pain on the unborn child" and once Americans "understand" that, there will be widespread support for banning the procedure after 20 weeks.

Critics took issue with both his claims about public opinion and medical science:

Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who denounced the bill as unconstitutional and dangerous, argued that "today's debate is not about passing legislation to improve medical care—it's about advancing an ideological agenda."

Challenging Graham's claims about pain, Feinstein quoted from a memo by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says that "the fetus does not even have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation."

FactCheck.org, after reviewing relevant research and speaking with several experts, concluded in 2015 that "a firm starting point for pain in the developing fetus is essentially impossible to pin down, and that definitive claims regarding pain perception at 20 weeks are unfounded."

Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, head of the National Abortion Federation, noted that "this is not the first time that lies demonizing abortion providers and the women they help have found such fertile ground," recalling the 1980s and 1990s, when "politicians looking for an issue to fundraise on, began spreading misinformation and lies about abortion providers that are echoed today."

"This language went unchecked and abortion providers were targeted by anti-choice extremists who were told they were stopping murderers. Shootings began. Fires. Bombings. A kidnapping. People chained themselves in an attempt to block clinic doors. I remember because I was there and so were many of our members," she said. "It is time for anti-choice politicians and extremists to tell the truth."

Reproductive rights advocates took to Twitter to debunk lies from the GOP lawmakers and their anti-choice witnesses, and emphasize the ultimate goal of "sham" hearings like this one:

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), charged that the hearing "makes patients' lives and health care a political game."

"It is another blow in the Trump-Pence administration's all-out attempt to gut Roe, outlaw abortion, and criminalize women for controlling their own bodies," Graves said. "The provocative, inaccurate lies about abortion being spread by this administration and its allies completely strip pregnant people of their dignity and medical needs, putting their health in jeopardy."

Pro-choice advocates also celebrated the testimonies of Valerie Peterson—who shared her story of terminating a pregnancy due to serious fetal abnormalities—and Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat who has garnered national attention for speaking out against her state's pending "heartbeat" bill.

Georgia is one of several states that bans abortions at 20 weeks—at least, until Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs the heartbeat bill. As Jordan pointed out, the state also has devastatingly high rates of maternal mortality—the worst in the United States, which ranks last among developed countries in terms of pregnancy-related deaths.

During the hearing, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) highlighted how abortion bans disproportionately impact people of color and those living in poverty. She also pointed out that many of the politicians fighting to roll back reproductive rights have also attacked other healthcare legislation and programs, from the Affordable Care Act to Medicaid.

"If politicians truly want to create a safe, just society, they should focus their time and attention on passing legislation that expands access to healthcare," concluded Brandi. "They should be passing the EACH Woman Act, supporting Medicaid expansion, ensuring young people have comprehensive sex education, reducing the maternal mortality rate, instituting paid family leave, and eliminating discrimination against pregnant people."

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