In-Depth: Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to end abortions after 20 weeks:
“The majority of American — some 59 percent according to a recent poll — support legal protection for pain-capable unborn children. Today we know that unborn babies not only die but suffer excruciating pain during dismemberment abortion — a cruelty that rips arms and legs off a helpless child. This tragic human rights abuse must end.”
Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) sponsored this bill in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses, and noted in his press release that his motivation for sponsoring this bill was to end pain for unborn babies:
"More than 18,000 'very late term' abortions are performed every year on perfectly healthy unborn babies in America. These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia."
National Right to Life supports this bill. Its legislative director, Jennifer Popik, says:
“These are very developed babies – these babies are capable of feeling pain and are considered by the medical profession to be a second patient. This legislation has saved lives, driving abortionists out of states who are performing abortions on these babies. And this legislation has the power to speak to the people of this country, highlighting, that where this bill is not law, it is legal to kill these very developed unborn children.”
National Right to Life's president, Carol Tobias, adds:
“We are proud to stand with pro-life hero Congressman Smith in encouraging the U.S. House to protect pain-capable unborn children. One-fourth of premature infants now survive when born at this stage – and there is strong evidence that were a child to be aborted at that stage, they would experience great pain, as they are torn limb from limb in late abortions.”
Last Congress, the Trump administration released a statement in support of this legislation, saying that if Congress passes it in its current form President Donald Trump's advisors would recommend he sign the bill into law.
Pro-choice groups have denounced this bill as an affront to a woman's right to obtain an abortion, with Planned Parenthood tweeting that it's "unpopular" and "unconstitutional" and NARAL saying it's part of a plan by "anti-choice House Republicans" to "ban abortion outright." In the 114th Congress, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and a coalition of 15 national religious groups opposed this bill.
Last Congress, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee argued that this bill was "patently unconstitutional" because it violated a woman's right to have an aborton prior to viability, and didn't have a health exception. The House Judiciary Democrats wrote:
"[T]he Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act bans abortions beginning at 20 weeks after fertilization. The bill has no health exception and only an extremely narrow exception for cases where a woman’s life is endangered by a physical condition. The bill also has woefully inadequate rape and incest exceptions. By banning pre-viability abortions, [this bill] is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade."
This bill has 129 bipartisan cosponsors, including 128 Republicans and one Democrat, in the current Congress. Last Congress, this bill passed the House by a 237-189 vote with the support of 182 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, including 180 Republicans and two Democrats. In the 114th Congress, the House passed this bill on a 242-184 vote, but it stalled in the Senate.
Of Note: According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 24 states that impose abortion bans after a certain number of weeks. Of those states, 17 ban abortion at about 20 weeks post-fertilization or its equivalent of 22 weeks on the grounds that the fetus can feel pain. Globally, only the U.S., Canada, North Korea, China, Singapore, Vietnam, and the Netherlands allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to Politifact.
Whether fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks is debated. Pro-life advocates argue that they can; however, major medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say the fetal nervous system isn't developed enough to feel pain before the third trimester.
Summary by Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Wanmongkhol)