If a fetus is administered anesthesia during surgery on the mother, then the government has the right to block abortions beyond that point as well, pro-life advocates argued to the Senate on Tuesday.
Republicans held a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to take testimony and begin laying the groundwork for a federal abortion ban tied to that fetal pain threshold, which works out to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.
“If medical science tells us the baby is well developed at five months, can feel pain … then we should have restrictions on abortion. You can only imagine the pain that comes from dismemberment,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and committee chairman.
Mr. Graham has introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. It contains exceptions for cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother is at risk, but it otherwise would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks.
Democrats countered that some women don’t know the risks of their pregnancy until after 20 weeks and that the ban would constrain their right to choose whether to carry the pregnancy to term.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, said the Republican push for the bill was meant “to rile up the Trump base.”
A number of Republican-led states have also explored fetal pain legislation, but Democrat-led states are pushing the other direction. New York, for example, has enacted a law allowing abortion until the moment of birth in certain cases.
Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican, said that is an “extremist position.”
The U.S. is one of just seven nations that allows abortion past 20 weeks. Austria, France, Germany and Spain have limits at 12 weeks, and polls suggest the majority of Americans oppose abortion after the first trimester, according to Real Clear Politics.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the Republican bill was a “sham” aimed at eating into broader abortion rights.
“They’ll try to go for a 10-week ban, then a six-week ban — part of a radical, relentless effort to completely and unequivocally strip women of their right to make their own health care decisions,” he said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said courts would reject a 20-week ban. Similar laws have been struck down in Arizona, North Carolina and Idaho.
“Today’s debate is not about passing legislation to improve medical care; it’s about advancing an ideological agenda,” Ms. Feinstein said.
With 60 votes needed to pass legislation, the bill is unlikely to clear the Senate. Even then, it’s unthinkable that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, would allow a vote in her chamber.
Mr. Graham acknowledged that his legislation has a long way to go but said he may be able to win over some Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
“This conversation is just beginning,” he said. “We are on the right side of history.”