This past Tuesday, we all watched and laughed as Vice President Joe Biden, in all his Biden glory, comically swore in our 114th Republican-controlled Congress. Exponentially less funny, however, was Congress’s introduction of a severe measure to restrict women’s access to abortion care, only hours later.
Yes, that’s right: our elected officials made abortion a priority on its very first day.
Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced HR 36, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would nationally ban all abortions after 20 weeks. The bill that passed the House last year but was stalled in the Senate, thanks to Democratic leadership.
With both the House and Senate now dominated by Republican control, the legislation is expected to see a vote (read: CODE RED, DEFCON 5, etc.)
This bill ignores reality. This type of “fetal pain” bill is problematic for many reasons, least of which is its unconstitutionality. It is in direct contradiction of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable outside of the womb. HR 36 seeks to ban abortions several weeks before that viability.
This bill also conflicts with the dominant view of the medical profession. Every major medical body, both in the U.S. and abroad, disagree with the premise behind this legislation. The American Medical Association, as well as the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, agree that the nervous system of a fetus is not developed enough to feel pain until the third trimester. The 20-week ban would prohibit women from receiving an abortion approximately one month before this occurs.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Franks referred to 20-week fetuses as “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.”
Truth bomb: Fetuses cannot survive outside of the womb at 20 weeks. Doctors agree that fetuses can’t survive until 24 to 28 weeks; and even then survival is not guaranteed. Besides, no baby delivered prior to 21 weeks has ever survived.
The reality of later-term abortions. Yes, this bill ignores medical fact and established law. But, most importantly, what our elected officials also ignored while they were busy playing doctor are the realities of women who seek later-term abortion care.
The pivotal 20-week mark in a pregnancy is right around the time when fetal abnormalities — like congenital brain defects, Spina Bifida, and Potter Syndrome — are discovered. The sobering truth is that there are countless examples of what can go wrong in the womb, and by taking away the control women have over their bodily decisions, HR 36 will hold women and their families hostage to these life-shattering circumstances.
But fetal abnormalities aren’t the only factors that contribute to women delaying abortion care. Economics, geography and social stigma also play a role.
Low-income women who cannot afford the cost of an abortion must wait until they have the resources to pay for the procedure. And then there are likely travel costs. Eighty-seven percent of counties in the U.S. are without an abortion provider, which in many cases, means women must remain in limbo until they can physically access a clinic. This isn’t as easy as one may think; it might entail taking time off work (and losing pay), arranging child care (if the woman already has child/ren), as well as finding and paying for transportation and an overnight stay somewhere, if the nearest clinic is hours away.
In this context, abortion becomes the right of a privileged few who have the means and access to it.
What’s more, thirty-eight percent of the country is considered hostile to abortion rights. The stigma and shame that surround the issue can compound all of these factors, making women reluctant to come to terms with their pregnancy, and instead causing them to postpone the procedure until the last possible moment.
And despite what the GOP would have you think, later term abortions are not prevalent; they account for less than 2% of all abortions. They are not decided upon flippantly, without consideration. Later term abortions happen because women need them. Taking away that safe, legal option will only hurt women — and their families — across the country.