A bill banning abortion after a woman has been pregnant for 20 weeks passed its first test on Tuesday afternoon, with the Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee passing the bill on a party-line vote.
The bill, titled the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," will now go to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration.
The bill originally sought to ban abortion after 20 weeks only in Washington, D.C., but subcommittee chairman Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) introduced an amendment at the beginning of the subcommittee’s markup session that expanded the bill to cover the entire country. The amendment passed on a party-line vote.
The Democrats on the subcommittee unanimously opposed the bill, arguing that it is unconstitutional, extreme, and misguided.
Subcommittee ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.) called it "just another battle in the perpetual Republican war on women."
The bill cites scientific evidence to argue that children can feel pain at 20 weeks.
"After 20 weeks, the unborn child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human," the bill says. "In the unborn child, application of such painful stimuli is associated with significant increases in stress hormones known as the stress response."
The bill bans all abortions or attempted abortions 20 weeks after conception unless the life of the mother is in danger.
"This is not only patently unconstitutional. It is also inhumane and extreme," said John Conyers (D., Mich.) in opposition to the bill.
The bill has gained bipartisan support and over 130 cosponsors, Franks noted in his opening statement.
Franks also said that about 10 percent of all abortions nationwide are performed after the first trimester, an average of 325 per day. The bill would reduce this number of late term abortions.
The Democrats argued that the bill is unconstitutional since it outlaws abortion at an earlier time than the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision permits. The Supreme Court said a woman has a right to an abortion before the child is viable outside of the womb.
When asked after the markup session what the line is for a viable child, Nadler confessed that he was not sure and conceded that technology is making it easier for children to survive. He eventually appealed to the Supreme Court’s decision that abortion bans are not constitutional before 24 weeks.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) argued that Congress cannot know how the Supreme Court will rule, noting that all courts found the partial-birth abortion ban, which Congress passed in 2003, unconstitutional before the Supreme Court upheld it in 2007.
Nadler suggested that congressmen would be violating their oath to uphold the Constitution if they voted for the bill, although he conceded that the Supreme Court could reverse itself.
"Their bill has no exceptions for situations where continuing a pregnancy will place a woman’s health or ability to have children in the future at risk," NARAL’s fundraising pitch says, even though the bill does provide an exception for the life of the mother.
Planned Parenthood has also come out against the bill, arguing that it is unconstitutional and an overreach of government power.
"We must have and enforce laws that protect access to safe and legal abortion, and we must reject misguided proposals like this one that would limit women's options," said Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards in a statement.
The bill has gained the support of major pro-life groups.
"This is one of the most important pro-life bills ever to move toward the floor of the house," said National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson. "This is our top legislative priority."
The Susan B. Anthony List also supports the bill.
"The abortion industry nationwide is rife with the brutality and abuse revealed during the Kermit Gosnell trial," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement released Monday afternoon. "We praise Congress’ recent action not only to protect the lives of children capable of feeling pain but to learn more about the practices going on inside late-term abortion facilities throughout the country."