Late-Term Abortion Ban Back

House to introduce 20-week ban in October

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy / Getty Images
September 27, 2017

House Republicans will make another attempt to curb late-term abortions in October.

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced he will reintroduce the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act at a Tuesday press conference. The bill will ban abortions after 20 weeks, the point in pregnancy in which fetuses can begin to feel pain. Similar legislation has passed in 20 states. Senate Democrats blocked federal legislation in 2015 after a 54-42 filibuster vote.

McCarthy said the bill is needed to "protect the voiceless, the vulnerable, and the marginalized" and end "needless suffering."

"We have an obligation to speak and defend for those who can't speak for themselves," he said. "I welcome every member of the House and the Senate to unite together and say that when children can feel pain, when you can see their noses and ears, when you can hear their heartbeats and feel their movement—at the very least we can all agree these children should be protected."

He was joined at the press conference by Danielle Pickering, whose son Micah was born at 22 weeks and survived with life-saving treatment from doctors. Pickering discussed the fragility of her infant son at the point of his birth, describing how she and her husband were prohibited from touching him because of the immense pain it would cause him. She urged lawmakers to pass the bill.

"Protect the lives of the most innocent people in our wonderful Nation, the pre-born," she said before thanking President Trump for pledging to sign such a bill on the campaign trail.

The United States is one of only six countries to allow elective late-term abortions without restrictions, joining North Korea, China, Vietnam, Canada, and Singapore. The Netherlands bans abortion after 24 weeks.

Unlike those countries, American abortion policies have been linked to the ability of babies to survive outside of the womb, as the Supreme Court set forth in the landmark Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions, which struck down state restrictions on abortions. Medical advances have pushed up the point of viability for pre-term babies.

One in five babies survive birth at 22 weeks and 99.8 percent of children born at 26 weeks survive outside of the womb, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that late-term abortions after 21 weeks accounted for 1.3 percent of the 664,435 abortions performed in 2013, the most recent data available. However, the picture from the CDC is incomplete. Those figures do not include abortions performed in California, Maryland, and New Hampshire, which do not submit state data to the federal government. Additionally, many other states only report statistics voluntarily submitted by abortion clinics, which are chronically lower than numbers reported by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization founded by Planned Parenthood.

The CDC found that more than 13,000 babies were aborted after 18 weeks, accounting for 3.1 percent of abortions among the 40 states that submitted gestational age data; 10 of those states reported zero abortions after 21 weeks because they had 20 week bans in place or did not submit the data to the CDC.

Rep. Diane Black (R., Tenn.) will cosponsor the bill with McCarthy. She credited her experience as a nurse for her support.

"It is far past time to remove the United States from the list of countries allowing late-term abortions," she said. "We must pass the [bill] to right this terrible wrong and give these unborn children a chance to see the light of day."

The announcement comes at a time when pro-life leaders have bristled at the Republican Party's inability to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider and a recipient of more than $500 million taxpayer dollars each year. A coalition of groups sent letters to Congress on September 5 demanding lawmakers use the reconciliation process to redirect the money to women's health centers that do not perform abortions; such a measure was tied to the failed attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Despite the lack of progress on the defund measure, pro-life leaders praised McCarthy's bill. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the legislation should win popular support given polls that show up to 80 percent of the public supports abortion restrictions, including a majority of those who support the right to abortion more generally, and 60 percent supporting a 20 week ban specifically.

"Polls consistently show that a large majority of Americans—women in higher numbers than men—support bringing our laws into line with basic human decency," she said. "We are grateful to Leader McCarthy for scheduling this vote and urge every Member of Congress to vote yes on this compassionate, popular bill."

McCarthy will introduce the bill in the House of Representatives on October 3.