House Republicans Just Passed a Bill Banning Abortions After 20 Weeks

Today, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban abortions across the country after the 20-week mark in a woman’s pregnancy. Next, the bill goes to the Senate.

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Oct 3 2017, 10:17pm

Photo by Win McNamee via Getty Images.

Julie Bindeman is a reproductive psychologist based in Maryland. She's also had two abortions because of fetal development complications that weren't discovered until she was 20 weeks and 18 weeks pregnant, respectively.

"It was a decision that my husband and I made together—in discussing with our physicians, in discussing with our clergy, in discussing with our family," she tells Broadly. "And I don't remember calling my senator to ask him to weigh in."

Today, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban abortions across the country after the 20-week mark in a woman's pregnancy. The only exceptions included in HR 36, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would be if a woman's life is in jeopardy or she's the victim of rape and has received counseling or medical treatment. The White House said yesterday that the president would sign the bill if it ends up on his desk. It goes to the Senate next.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who brought the bill to the floor today, said in a statement that this legislation was important because "[i]t will protect those children who science has proven can feel pain, and give them a chance to grow and live full and happy lives." But experts say that's not true. In fact, more than 10 years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) came out with the position that "fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester."

Moreover, later abortions are rare: Only one percent of procedures take place after 21 weeks. Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, pointed out via Twitter that this bill "is a 'solution' in search of a problem." Similar bills have passed the House only to be blocked by the Senate in the past, which is advocates say is likely to happen again, but President Trump has said he would sign the bill into law if it does pass the Senate this time. Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health, said in a statement sent to Broadly that HR 36 "would provide no benefit for women's health," adding that it "is built solely on misinformation and stigma about the safety of abortion and the women who seek abortion care."

Ann Marie Benitez is the senior director of government relations at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, which came out against HR 36 alongside a number of other reproductive rights organizations when it was last introduced in 2015. She calls the legislation "a flat-out ban" that would specifically impact marginalized communities.

"We have seen studies that show that when you look at young people, low-income women and women without access to comprehensive sex ed, it takes longer to confirm a pregnancy," she tells Broadly. "When you take that into account along with all of the state laws over the past decade that have been increasing and causing a lot more restrictions at the state level, it creates such difficult hurdles for anybody trying to access abortion care."

There are already so many barriers, Benitez says, including "unnecessary requirements" like counseling and ultrasounds. "And then add on the cost—we know that for low-income people, people who have to pay for this procedure out of pocket, it takes time to raise money. Nearly 60 percent of women who experience a delay in obtaining abortion cite the time it to take make arrangements to raise the money.

"You take all of this into account and then you add the 20-week ban to it," Benitez continues, "you're basically … imposing a ban. These types of laws are intended to eliminate access to abortion."

In response to the House passing of HR 36, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said that "[w]omen making these difficult decisions need medical professionals, not tone deaf legislation."