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The FAQs: House to Vote on 20-Week Abortion Limit

What is the pro-life legislation coming up for a vote?

The House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36). This GOP-backed legislation is based on compelling evidence that unborn babies experience pain by 20 weeks gestation. Although the full language of the bill has not yet been released, it is believed the bill will prohibit performing or attempting to perform abortions on babies at 20 weeks or greater gestation, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

Didn’t similar legislation fail earlier this year?

The House was ready to vote on this bill on January 22, 2015, during the March for Life, when the Republican leadership pulled the bill at the last minute due to concerns raised by a few members of Congress. Some female Republican representative had concerns about requirements that victims of rape or incest must report the crime to law enforcement. At the time, pro-life groups were outraged by the refusal to pass the legislation. “I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done?”

What is different about the current legislation?

The original bill required the crimes of rape or incest to be reported to law enforcement officials prior to performing a late-term abortion. As Michael Warren reports:

According to House Republicans, that requirement has been removed from the bill. Instead, the legislation requires abortion doctors to ensure that victims have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling at least 48 hours prior to the late-term procedure. With that change, the bill has assuaged the concerns of those Republican members while still garnering strong support of national pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List.

Does the American public support such legislation?

While many Americans support abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, the majority believes it should be illegal in the second and third trimesters (from 13 to 37 weeks). A Gallup poll taken in 2013 found 64 percent of Americans say abortion should be generally illegal in the second three months of pregnancy. That percentage rises to 80 percent for the last three months.

What is the evidence a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks?

The issue of when a fetus can feel pain has been divisive and are often based more on particular political views of abortion than on scientific proof. But as the original legislation noted,

The position, asserted by some physicians, that the unborn child is incapable of experiencing pain until a point later in pregnancy than 20 weeks after fertilization predominately rests on the assumption that the ability to experience pain depends on the cerebral cortex and requires nerve connections between the thalamus and the cortex. However, recent medical research and analysis, especially since 2007, provides strong evidence for the conclusion that a functioning cortex is not necessary to experience pain.

Medical research has also shown that babies are viable outside the womb as early as 22 weeks. The fact that babies can survive that early provides further evidence that they are developed enough to feel pain.

I’ve heard Kermit Gosnell’s name mentioned in reference to the bill. What does he have to do with this legislation?

Kermit Gosnell is the late-term abortionist who was convicted two years ago this week of murder and infanticide. The Gosnell case shined a spotlight on the fact that abortionists can be convicted of killing a child only after the child is born. This helped push support for the bill within Congree. As Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) says,

“There are Kermit Gosnells all over America, inflicting not only violence, cruelty and death on very young children, but excruciating pain as well. Some abortionists may have cleaner sheets than Gosnell did and better sterilized equipment and better trained accomplices, but what they do and what Gosnell did for four decades–kill babies and hurt women–is the same.

 “The brutal irony of the Gosnell conviction is that if he had killed those three babies before they had been delivered, their painful deaths would have been completely legal.  Next week, the House will vote to protect unborn children from painful late abortion.”

Will the bill pass Congress?

In the House, all 244 Republicans are expected to vote for the legislation. But because abortion for any reason until the moment of birth is part of the Democratic Party platform, only 3 of the 188 Democrats (Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Henry Cuellar of Texas) are expected to support the bill. All three of those Democratic legislators voted for similar legislation in 2013. In the Senate, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is sponsoring related legislation. Enough of the 54 Republican Senators are expected to support passage that the bill is expected to make it through Congress with issue.

So once it gets through Congress, abortions after 20 weeks will be illegal?

Unfortunately, no. After passing the House and Senate, the legislation will be vetoed by President Obama, the most pro-abortion president in American history.  President Obama vowed earlier this year to veto the abortion ban, saying the legislation “disregards women’s health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients’ health care decisions, and the Constitution.” Congress will not have enough votes to override his veto.

However, passage of the bill this year will give Congress incentive to reintroduce the legislation until such time as we have a pro-life president in the White House.

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