House votes to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy

House Republicans powered through a bill Tuesday to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying the recent conviction of a Philadelphia abortion provider for killing newborn babies has revived the contentious debate.

GOP lawmakers said Kermit Gosnell’s trial raised tricky questions about what the cutoff should be for abortions and at what point fetuses feel pain — but Democrats said Republicans will suffer with voters who think the party ignores women’s concerns


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The bill, which passed by a 228-196 vote, marked this Congress‘ first foray into pro-life issues.

“I am appalled by the savage practice of late-term abortion,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, as she stood next to an ultrasound photo of a 20-week-old fetus on the House floor.

Under the bill, a woman is exempt from the 20-week threshold only if her life is threatened or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest and she has reported either incident before obtaining the abortion.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the measure, and President Obama said he would veto the “assault on a woman’s right to choose.”

Bill supporters said repeatedly that they were motivated by what prosecutors had called Gosnell’s “house of horrors.” Gosnell was convicted of murder in the deaths of three babies he delivered after botched abortions.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, said Tuesday that the Gosnell case put a face on the issue of late-term abortion, and his legislation marked the first time either chamber of Congress provided “affirmative protection to the unborn child.”

“Nobody takes the issue of abortion lightly, but unfortunately not enough attention is being paid to the unborn child,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx, North Carolina Republican.

But Democrats said the bill smacked of a repeat of the 2012 GOP campaign, which Democrats said amounted to a “war on women.” It was highlighted by two GOP candidates who lost their November bids for the Senate after they made comments on pregnancy resulting from rape.

Democrats said the GOP was once again treading on touchy ground.

“First of all, it’s the woman’s body, not yours,” said Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, Florida Democrat. “She alone bears the burden, the pain and joy that it brings. Please stop trying to regulate our reproductive organs. They belong to us.”

Last year, the House passed a similar bill, though that applied only to the District of Columbia, which is under Congress‘ direct control. After the Gosnell murder trial, Mr. Franks expanded his legislation to cover the country.

The bill’s supporters cited a growing body of scientific evidence that has developed in the 40 years since the Supreme Court upheld a woman’s right to an abortion in its landmark case, Roe v. Wade, that shows fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks post-fertilization.

House Democrats said that is a fringe view among the medical community. Republicans, they said, did not provide broad enough exemptions for women who become pregnant because of rape and incest because many of them may be afraid to report the incidents.

The legislation 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.

Republicans sent Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee to lead debate on the floor — an unusual move because she is not a member of the House Judiciary Committee that sent the bill to the chamber. There are no women among the committee’s 23 Republican members, a fact Democrats used as leverage in decrying the bill.

Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, New York Democrat, said women’s health issues are being guided by men in “blue suits and red ties who seem to believe that once they get elected to something they have the right to play doctor.”

Last week, Mr. Franks took heat for saying the number of pregnancies resulting from rape tend to be “very low.” He later clarified his remarks, saying abortions conducted after the fifth month of pregnancy are rarely the result of rapes.

He said Tuesday that by the sixth month of gestation, when his bill goes into effect, “a lot of those questions are answered.”

Yet his prior comments resonated for days, in view of recent history.

Former Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican, lost his bid for a Senate seat after suggesting rape victims can thwart pregnancy. During an interview, he said that in “a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

In Indiana, Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly last year after saying that “even if life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”

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