The HouseJudiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, igniting a debate over the thorny social issue at a time when some in the GOP fear they are alienating female voters.
The Republican-led panel voted 20-12 to forward to the full chamber the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which is based on the belief that fetuses can feel pain after the five-month threshold.
“Delivered or not, babies are babies, and it has been shown that they can feel pain at least by 20 weeks,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said. “It is time to welcome young children who can feel pain into the human family.”
Rep. Trent Franks, the bill’s chief sponsor, initially wrote his bill to cover just the District of Columbia, since Congress has direct oversight of the nation’s capital, but expanded it to cover the nation after abortion provider Kermit Gosnell was convicted of killing babies born alive after botched abortions at his Philadelphia clinic.
The bill mirrors state-by-state efforts to place limits on abortion based on the length of time post-fertilization, although courts have struck down some of the laws and key Republicans want to shift their focus away from controversial issues such as abortion after recent losses at the ballot box.
“At a time when Americans want their elected officials to focus on creating jobs and building our economy, the House majority has instead once again decided to reignite its war on women,” Democratic Reps. Louise M. Slaughter, of New York, and Diana DeGette, of Colorado, said on behalf of the House Pro-Choice Caucus.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of American also condemned the legislation as “dangerous and unconstitutional.”
The committee voted along party lines to defeat a Democratic amendment that would have carved out an exception for pregnancies that are the result of rape of incest.
Mr. Franks, Arizona Republican, had urged his colleagues to reject the amendment, arguing the number of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low.”
His remarks raised eyebrows among Democrats. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, of California, decried the claim as baseless and “astonishing” given GOP lawmakers’ failures in recent elections after politically damaging attempts to comment on rape and resulting pregnancies.
“The idea that the Republican men on this committee think they can tell the women of America that they have to carry, to term, the product of a rape is outrageous,” she said.
Then-Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican, lost his bid for a Senate seat last year after saying a woman’s body can thwart a pregnancy after a “legitimate rape.”
Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly in Indiana after saying that “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Mr. Franks took strides to explain his remarks, saying abortions conducted after the fifth month of pregnancy are rarely the result of rapes.
His reasoning is that rapes are typically reported immediately, and any resulting pregnancies from the crime could be addressed well before the legislation’s 20-week threshold.