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House To Vote on D.C. 20-Week Abortion Ban

House To Vote on D.C. 20-Week Abortion Ban

July 30, 2012 — The House on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a bill (HR 3803) that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/27).

The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was introduced by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) in January. The legislation, similar to measures enacted in several states, is based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain around 20 weeks.

Although the ban would not apply in cases where abortion is necessary to save the woman from death or "irreversible physical impairment," it would stand for cases of rape, incest or fetal anomaly. Democrats tried and failed to amend the bill to allow exceptions in the event of severe but not fatal health risks to the mother, as well as for pregnant women who need cancer treatment (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/27).

As of Friday, the bill had 222 co-sponsors -- more than a majority in the House. However, because the measure is being brought to the floor under a suspension of rules, it will need a two-thirds majority to pass and no amendments will be allowed. According to the Washington Post's "D.C. Wire," it is unclear whether the bill can clear the two-thirds-majority hurdle, given Democratic opposition to the measure (Pershing, "D.C. Wire," Washington Post, 7/27).

Abortion-rights supporters have blasted the measure. The legislation "is a clear strike in the ongoing War on Women, and one that places women's lives in danger," National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill said ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/27).

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) oppose the measure, both as supporters of abortion rights and because they said it would usurp the city's ability to self-govern. "We are not puppets to be used by the right-to-life forces," Norton said ("D.C. Wire," Washington Post, 7/27).

Stereotypes of 'Late-Term Aborters' Hide Truth, Opinion Piece Argues

In a Washington Post opinion piece about the bill, Christy Zink describes her experience terminating "a much-wanted pregnancy at almost 22 weeks, when her baby was found to have severe fetal anomalies of the brain."

Zink writes, "If the restrictions in this bill had been the law of the land when my husband and I received our diagnosis, I would have had to carry to term and give birth to a baby who the doctors concurred had no chance of a real life and who would have faced severe, continual pain."

Zink argues that the bill is premised on a "myth of ... callous women" who seek abortions "after 20 weeks because [they are] cruel and heartless" or "lazy" and "selfish." She adds, "Believing this fabrication of the radical right depends on one's ability to conjure at once a perfectly unfeeling woman and a perfectly healthy child, a stand in for the much more tragic and complex reality."

She writes that the "bill would have calamitous ramifications for real women and real families, and that the women it would most affect could never imagine they would need their right to abortion protected this way." She concludes that "members of the Senate and ordinary people across this country must see through the stereotype of the late-term aborter and see, instead, the true face of a woman who has been in this situation" (Zink, Washington Post, 7/27).