WASHINGTON – The House on Tuesday voted to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, capping a week of controversy with passionate debate over the measure before approving it largely on party lines.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed on a 228-196 vote and now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to fail.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, who did not speak in defense of his own bill on the floor Tuesday after he made headlines last week for a comment on rape and abortion.
Franks was not available for comment after the vote, but his office released a statement expressing his thanks. He called the vote the first time that “affirmative protection has been extended to unborn children” by either chamber of Congress.
“It is my prayer that today also marks the day when America finally opens her eyes to the humanity of these little victims and the inhumanity of what is being done to them,” his statement said.
But Democrats blasted the bill as part of a Republican “war on women.” They said it threatens women’s rights and contradicts court rulings recognizing abortion rights, from the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade 40 years ago to an appeals court ruling just last month that voided an Arizona law similar to Franks’ bill.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., called it “the trifecta of a bad bill” in a news conference before Tuesday’s vote.
“It is unconstitutional, it is unsafe, and is unsupported by the medical professionals and experts in this country,” Speier said.
Democrats said Congress should be spending its time on other pressing matters, noting that Franks’ bill will likely not survive the Senate and that President Barack Obama has vowed to veto it if it does.
Democrats said there is no medical evidence that a fetus can feel pain at that age, as the bill claims. Republicans argued just as passionately that there is.
“This bill is not just about abortion,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La. “It’s about pain, it’s about torture to that young life.”
Arizona’s congressional delegation split on party lines with all five Democrats opposing and all four Republicans supporting it.
The bill grabbed headlines last week after Franks said in committee that “estimates of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” during his argument against including an exception for rape or incest in the measure.
He later said his comment was taken out of context, and that he was referring to the low number of late-term abortions that result from rapes. But the furor had already started, and it continued on the floor Tuesday with Democrats citing the comment.
The Republican-controlled House Rules Committee on Friday added an exception to the bill for cases of rape and incest that are reported to authorities.
But Democrats said that amendment, which they said was “quietly maneuvered” into the bill in response to the controversy, did little to help women because of the reporting requirement.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., called it “deeply offensive” that a woman would have to prove that she reported the rape before she could get an abortion.
And Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said an exception for pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother makes no exception for “women’s health.”
But Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., argued that Republicans are not waging a “war on women,” but are instead protecting both unborn babies and mothers.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said that opponents to the bill simply refuse to acknowledge that “we are dealing with human life in the situation of an abortion.”
Republicans repeatedly invoked the case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia physician convicted last month of murder for the deaths of three fetuses in botched abortions. The Franks bill is needed to keep such situations from happening again, they said.
“This (bill) is a step that needs to be taken to protect life,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who managed the bill on the floor for the Republicans.