House Bill to Restrict Abortions After 20 Weeks Heads to Senate

Arizona Rep. Trent Franks at the “Politics on the Rocks” event in 2013. (Unmodified Creative Commons photo by Gage Skidmore.

On October 3, the House of Representatives passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

H.R. 36, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., states that anyone who performs or attempts to perform an abortion on a fetus that is 20 or more weeks old will face criminal charges.

The bill, titled the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” stipulates that violators of the law could face fines, potential prison time of up five years or both.

Although the new bill would enact the most restrictive abortion laws in recent memory, it would allow for some exceptions under unique circumstances. Abortions could be performed past the 20-week period if necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman or if the pregnancy were a result of rape or incest.

Even then, a physician who performs these special case abortions must comply with so-called “specified requirements” set by the government.

In the past, similar legislation has failed to pass. Bills comparable to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act were proposed in the years 2013 and in 2015, but both failed to become federal law. The difference this time is that the White House has given explicit support to the bill, according to CNN.

On Monday, according to The Hill, the White House said that it “strongly supports” the bill and “applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.” The bill ultimately passed in the House with 237 votes in favor of the measure and 189 against it.

As of right now, there are no federal laws that criminalize abortions past a certain point in the pregnancy. However, a number of states have passed their own legislation on the matter. According to The Atlantic, only seven states in the U.S.—Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, and Vermont—have no laws limiting abortions by gestational age.

States such as Alabama, Indiana and Louisiana already have state-wide laws in place that are similar to the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

In each of these states, as well four others, abortions that are performed later than the twentieth week of a woman’s pregnancy are prohibited by law.

Other states, such as Florida, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have banned abortions later than 24 weeks into a pregnancy. Many more have outlawed abortions “post-viability,” meaning the time past which the fetus would be able to survive outside the uterus or any time within the third trimester of a pregnancy.

The bill now faces an uphill challenge in the Senate where the Republicans only hold 52 seats but need 60 votes to pass the bill.

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