The Senate will take an initial vote Monday on legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which pro-life activists say the unborn can feel pain and increasingly survive outside of the womb.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, lead sponsor of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, said the United States should be ashamed to be one of only seven nations, along with China and North Korea, to allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
“In 2018, do we still want to be one of seven nations that allow abortion on demand at 20 weeks?” Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, said Thursday on a press call. “It’s a time in the pregnancy when young parents are encouraged to sing to the unborn child because you can recognize the parent’s voice. It’s a time when babies can be saved.”
The House passed the 20-week abortion ban in October for the third time in the last five years. The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans don’t have 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster from Senate Democrats, who blocked a similar bill in 2015.
The bill contains exceptions for rape, incest and when the life of the mother is at risk.
Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, said scientific advances have made it possible for the unborn to survive outside of the womb at earlier stages of pregnancy. She said there is also “significant scientific evidence” that the unborn can feel pain at five months of development.
“Yet there is no federal law protecting these vulnerable babies from abortion,” Ms. Ernst, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, said on the press call. “As a result, every year in our country, the lives of thousands of such babies end painfully in abortion.”
She told a story about one of her constituents, Micah Pickering of Newton, Iowa, who was born at 22 weeks in 2012 and has gone on to live a healthy and normal life.
“When Micah was born, he was only about the size of a bag of M&Ms,” she said. “And yet Micah was still a perfectly formed baby with 10 fingers and 10 toes.”
Pro-life activists have dubbed the bill “Micah’s Law” in honor of the 5-year-old. They estimate the bill will prevent between 10,000 and 18,000 late-term abortions every year.
Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government relations for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the bill “unnecessary” and full of “inflammatory language intentionally designed to politicize the provision of health care.”
“The political agenda here is clear: to take away access to safe, legal abortion,” Ms. Singiser said in a statement. “Time and time again, the American people have rejected these blatantly political attacks on women’s health care. Instead of attacking women’s health, Congress needs to listen to the American people and invest in women and families.”
Public opinion polls have found support for 20-week abortion bans in the past, even among Democrats.
A Quinnipiac University poll from 2014 found 46 percent of Democrats supported the pain-capable legislation, compared to 47 percent who opposed it. Overall, 60 percent of Americans said they approved of the legislation.
An ABC News poll from 2013 also found 51 percent of Democrats were in favor of banning abortions after 20 weeks, when they were given a choice between 20-week and 24-week restrictions on the practice.
Sixteen states currently ban abortion after 20 weeks.