Today, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would institute a federal ban on 20-week abortions. The White House has indicated it supports this bill—HR 36. I’d urge voters on both sides of the issue to take this with a grain of cynical salt.
The Pain Capable Child Protection Act is sponsored by a handful of pro-life House Republicans.
Similar legislation—with some of the same cosponsors—failed in 2012 and 2015.
But during those years, a pro-choice Democrat sat in the White House. Now, if the bill passes the Senate, it stands a good chance of becoming law.
That this 20-week ban could actually become law is understandably upsetting to pro-choice advocates, and exciting to those who want to see abortion outlawed. At 20 weeks, the pro-life side claims, a fetus can feel pain (there’s, at best, thin scientific evidence to back this). But more than 90 percent of abortions occur before the 20-week mark. That’s because as a pregnancy advances, the procedure necessary to terminate it becomes more complex and hard on a woman’s body. It also becomes much more expensive; late term abortions can cost upwards of $10,000. No rational woman would choose to delay an abortion until it’s much more expensive and physically traumatic, just for fun.
Packaging a bill like this as a way to save “pain-capable” babies plays well with a population that doesn’t understand who has abortions and why. Which is why its sale to the public is so cynical, and why its congressional sponsors should know what they’re doing, and who they’re suggesting be harmed.
Many abortions after the 20-week mark often occur because of severe fetal abnormalities or other serious health concerns. Some birth defects can’t even be detected until the 20-week mark, which means that banning abortions past 20 weeks would give pregnant women no time to decide if they wished to carry a nonviable fetus to term. This ban would hurt countless families facing a horrible choice.
So a 20-week ban doesn’t significantly reduce the number of abortions. What it does do is score political points with voters who want legislators to do something about all this abortion, because it has the word “ban” in it. And it scores those points at the expense of women facing the unfathomable. To lend the bill an air of empathy, there’s an exception for rape and incest. Because, in the view of this bill, babies that are the result of rape and incest are capable of feeling pain, but also aborting them is fine.
This move is reminiscent of the push in the aughts to outlaw “partial birth” abortion, a very rare procedure that nonetheless riled up pro-lifers. That strategy paid off. In Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007), the Supreme Court agreed that the procedure should not be legal. (Texas tried something similar with the dilation & evacuation procedure, but that law was struck down this year.)
Those who believe abortion should be safe and legal should be upset by the Pain Capable Child Protection Act. But so should those who don’t believe abortion should be legal. A 20-week ban is a cheap ploy to score political points with a certain high-energy but low-information subset of voters. It hurts women and doesn’t significantly reduce the number of abortions that occur. It’s ghoulish.
Besides, if and when it’s signed into law, it will likely face a long legal challenge. Roe v. Wade established that women have the right to elective legal abortion to the point of fetal viability; Planned Parenthood v. Casey affirmed this.
Then again, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 84.