In a 228-196 vote yesterday, the House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks, with exceptions for legally reported cases of rape or incest, or to save the life of the mother. The bill is an attack on Roe v. Wade and is in conflict with the commonly upheld limit of when the fetus is generally considered viable (typically 24 weeks), that exists in most states. Its passage is considered to be largely meaningless, as there is little chance it will pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, who has not yet scheduled a vote for the bill. Additionally, the Obama administration has called the bill “an assault on a woman’s right to choose” and declared that it will veto the bill should it clear the Senate.
The victory is still symbolic and reveals that the Republican War on Women is continuing to gain national traction, as it parallels many bills that have been appearing in state legislature across the country. The bill, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, was sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, (R-AZ) and is likely to further spur anti-choice protestors to action, whether or not it actually becomes law. Many anti-choice supporters think that the bill did not go far enough, and were upset when the rape and incest exceptions were added after Rep. Franks sparked controversy last week by claiming that very few rapes actually result in pregnancies (there is no scientific data to suggest this is true). The fact that rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in the country and that many women seeking abortions for fetuses conceived in rape may not have legal evidence of the crime, apparently did not occur to anyone.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who is anti-choice, was brought in to manage the bill despite not being on the Judiciary Committee, perhaps in response to the general Democratic complaint that all 23 men on the Committee who approved the measure last week were men. Not all Republicans supported the bill – six voted against it, although six Democrats endorsed it. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Penn, called the bill a “stupid idea,” as it risked alienating voters who are more concerned with economic recovery and job creation, than with the passage of bills that are all but guaranteed not to advance in the legislative system.
The House’s actions are troubling, if not surprising, as it reveals that the Republican attempts to erode Roe v. Wade are escalating. Obama’s promise to veto the bill is reassuring, but it is difficult not to be concerned by the escalation of Republican efforts to strip away women’s rights, which could eventually leave us with a meaningless Roe v. Wade decision.