The House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. That is the point after which, according to scientists, the unborn child can feel pain, including the pain of being aborted.
The House passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on a mostly-party-line vote of 237 to 189. The House had passed similar bills in 2013 and 2015, but they failed to make it through the Senate and faced a certain veto from President Obama.
This time, though, President Trump has said that he supports the bill. But getting it through the Senate, even though it is now controlled by ostensibly pro-life Republicans, may still be a problem. Asked if the Senate would take up the bill, Republican whip John Cornyn (R-Tx) said,”That’s not a near-term priority.”
Sixty percent of the public supports this limitation on abortion. The bill allows for exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. For more details, go here.
Is restricting abortion after 20 weeks sufficient? No. The evil of killing an unborn child is monstrous no matter how far he or she has developed.
But this restriction implicitly acknowledges the humanity of the “fetus” and sets a precedent in recognizing his or her interests.
The editorial An Advance on Abortion in National Review urges the Senate to pass the bill. It observes that other countries, including those more liberal than our own, forbid abortion after even earlier stages of development. Sweden forbids abortion after 18 weeks. In France, it is nearly impossible to get an abortion after 12 weeks. Germany too forbids abortion after 12 weeks, requiring also mandatory abortion counseling.
Roe v. Wade and subsequent court rulings have allowed restrictions on abortion after “viability”–that is, the baby’s ability to survive outside the mother, even if he or she requires the help of medical devices. Most states do not allow abortion after viability, though the definition of that varies. (Seven states and the District of Columbia permit abortion even after viability. Those are Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska. See this summary of state laws.) But viability keeps getting pushed back as medical technology improves, so that a child may live outside the womb as early as 23 weeks.
So using the capability of feeling pain, rather than viability, might not get through the courts. But President Trump has appointed lots of conservative jurists to the courts, including Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch.
Passing this bill, for all its limitations, is surely worth the try. This will certainly be a test of how sincerely Republican Senators believe in the pro-life cause. How common is the hypocrisy of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), who presents himself as pro-life and is one of the sponsors of this bill, who nevertheless tried to pressure his mistress into getting an abortion?
As the National Review editorial says, “A 20-week limit would represent the most meaningful federal restriction on abortion since Roe v. Wade— indeed, the inevitable legal challenge to the law might very well provide the Supreme Court with the opportunity to revisit that grievously ill-considered and constitutionally groundless decision.”
Photo of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) by Timmurphy (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons