Calling a bill to ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy “the most pro-life legislation to ever come before this body,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, congratulated the 242 Republicans and four Democrats who voted Wednesday for its passage.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act cites evidence fetuses at 20 weeks can feel pain.
“It’s time to open our eyes and allow our consciences to catch up with our technology,” said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., the bill’s chief sponsor. “It is a test of our basic humanity and who we are as a human family.”
The bill had initially been scheduled for a vote in January to coincide with the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., but was abruptly canceled when some Republicans objected to a provision permitting abortion in cases of rape only when the crime had been reported to police. The new bill instead requires women claiming sexual assault to receive medical care or counseling at least 48 hours before an abortion.
Several of the Republicans who objected in January, including Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.), voted for the bill Wednesday.
“This has a much less punitive substance to it,” said Walorski. “It’s important that when we look at the care of women who are in crisis, that we make sure they’re totally taken care of.”
The vote received high praise among pro-life activists and scorn by defenders of abortion on demand.
“Every innocent life deserves to be protected. We commend the House for putting the health and well-being of mothers and unborn children first,” said Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom.
“Not only does this law protect children in the womb who can experience horrific pain, it also protects mothers from the increased risk of physical harm and the tremendous psychological consequences that come with late-term abortions. The Senate, which will consider the bill next, can rest assured that this is good law.”
Ashley McGuire, senior fellow with the Catholic Association, called the House vote “welcome news.”
“The United States is one of six remaining countries in the world to still allow this barbaric practice. As the recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine found, the age at which babies can survive outside the womb continues to move forward. Hopefully this vote is a first step toward a world in which all unborn children enjoy the protection of the law. Until then, we are glad to see the House of Representatives affirm that four, five, six, and seven pound humans should not be subjected to the brutality of abortion.”
While there’s little chance of the bill becoming law while Barack Obama is president, Republicans see the measure as a way of forcing the issue of viability back to the Supreme Court. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that premature babies can survive at 22 weeks with care.
Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest, blasted the vote as “disgraceful,” threatening a veto from Obama should it reach his desk.
“The bill continues to add a harsh burden to survivors of sexual assault, rape and incest who are already enduring unimaginable hardship,” Earnest said.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, blasted Republicans for debating the bill during Women’s Health Week. Tweeting prior to the vote, she said, “This ban would put barriers to care in front of rape survivors & eliminate health care options when they’re needed most. Put simply: a 20-week abortion ban lacks compassion & it lacks respect.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign criticized Republicans for the vote, with the candidate herself tweeting, “When it comes to women’s health, there are two kinds of experts: women and their doctors. True 40+ years ago, true today. -H”
“Politicians should not interfere with personal medical decisions, which should be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider,” Clinton’s senior policy adviser Maya Harris said in a statement.
Clinton, however, has been a long-time proponent of government action on health care that puts politicians between citizens and their personal medical decisions.
The bill now goes to the Senate, although there are no immediate plans there to address the measure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., backs a Senate version of the legislation.
The four Republicans who voted against the bill were Reps. Charlie Dent (Pa.), Bob Dold (Ill.), Rodney Frelinghuysen (N.J.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.).
The four Democrats who supported it were Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Jim Langevin (R.I.), Dan Lipinski (Ill.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.).
Boehner announced Wednesday’s scheduled vote last Thursday, just hours after pro-lifers gathered outside the speaker’s office door to draw attention – again – to the fact that the long-delayed vote on a 20-week abortion ban had yet to be scheduled.
“If we don’t see progress by June, we’re going to call for a massive event,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition.
He told reporters at a news conference the group was “here today following the principles of Dr. King. We are going in to show Speaker Boehner why this issue is not a political issue.”
However, when the protesters went inside the congressional office building, they were met with a closed door to Boehner’s office, which was not opened to them despite repeated knocks.
From the protest:
Several of the protesters, who hailed from Virginia, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Maryland, Kansas, Michigan, Alabama, Massachusetts and more, carried plastic replicas of unborn children wrapped in pink blankets, and left them at the office door. Several posters and placards also were left.
One woman was wearing a T-shirt saying, “Black women are good mothers.”
Others held up images of the results of abortion – the dismembered bodies of abortion victims.
“Our message is simple,” Mahoney, one of the event’s organizers, said. “Protect America’s children. Stand with America’s children.”
Last Thursday’s event came six weeks after a previous action at Boehner’s office on March 25, when Mahoney and a handful of other pro-life advocates knelt and prayed in front of the speaker’s office door, and were arrested by Capitol police.