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House Passes Late-Term Abortion Ban Pushed by GOP

Most late-term abortions would be outlawed under legislation Republicans passed in the House Tuesday.
Image: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan during a press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington
U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington Sept. 7, 2017.Joshua Roberts / Reuters file
/ Source: Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Republicans have pushed a bill through the House outlawing most late-term abortions.

A Republican president is waiting in the White House to sign the bill. But the measure won’t reach Donald Trump because Senate Democrats have enough votes to kill it with a filibuster — a delaying tactic that takes 60 votes to overcome.

The measure remains a top priority for anti-abortion groups and a major target for abortion rights organizations. House debate came a week after the collapse of a GOP effort to repeal much of President Barack Obama's health care law. The repeal would have also have blocked federal money for Planned Parenthood.

White House officials sent lawmakers a letter saying the measure "would help to facilitate the culture of life to which our nation aspires." That praise was in contrast to the certain veto similar bills faced under Obama.

He never had to act. The Democratic-controlled Senate didn't even consider the bill after the House approved it in 2013, and a House-passed measure in 2015 was rejected by a GOP-run Senate.

That same fate awaits it this year. Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority but overwhelming Democratic opposition means the measure would never reach the 60 votes it would need to pass.

Asked this week if the Senate would consider the measure after House passage, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said, "That's not a near-term priority." Senate GOP leaders are now focusing on tax cuts.

Related: Kentucky’s Last Abortion Clinic Fights to Stay Open in Court

Even so, National Right to Life Committee legislative director Jennifer Popik said her group wants the Senate to vote on the measure because "it highlights for people across the country how extreme people on the other side are on this issue."

The White House letter also cited "recent advancements" showing "the physical structures necessary to experience pain" are developed 20 weeks after fertilization. Republicans cited scientific evidence backing that view during House debate.

"These unborn babies are feeling pain. They suffer. That is really hard to hear and really hard to say," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Democrats rejected that. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said fetuses cannot experience pain before at least 24 weeks of development. In an interview, the group's chief executive officer, Hal Lawrence, said "the overwhelming amount of evidence" shows fetuses younger than that have reflex activity but lack the neurological development to sense pain.

"They can't tell what it is," Lawrence said. "If you can't interpret it, it can't hurt."

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called the measure the GOP's latest attempt "to pass off political posturing as proven science."

She also contrasted the bill with Republican efforts to cut aid for children and food stamps, saying: "Pure hypocrisy. We love it until it's born, then it's somebody else's problem."

The measure would make it a crime for anyone to perform most abortions on fetuses believed to be 20 weeks into development. Violators could face five years in prison.

Exceptions would be made to save the mother's life and for incest and rapes reported to government authorities.

Abortions after 20 weeks are rare. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of over 664,000 reported abortions in 2013, just 1.3 percent occurred at least 21 weeks into development.

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 but opened the door to some state restrictions. Forty-three states bar some abortions at certain points during pregnancies, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that favors abortion rights.