The Need for Flexibility in the Twenty-Week Ban

 /  Oct. 15, 2017, 7:43 p.m.


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Trent Franks (R-AZ) introduced the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the House.

What are the Republicans’ arguments on behalf of their recent twenty-week abortion ban that they just pushed through the House of Representatives? Their position rests on two main claims: the fetus can feel pain, and the headlines the bill generates are bound to draw national attention to the pro-life cause. The latest attempt by House Republicans to pass a twenty-week ban harkens back to 2013 and 2015, when similar bills passed in the House before failing in the Senate. Hopefully, this bill goes down to a similar defeat, as it denies women the rights granted to them in Roe v. Wade.

The exceptions granted by the bill are few and rigid: in order for a woman to obtain an abortion after twenty weeks, either her life must be at risk, or the pregnancy must be the result of rape or incest. The bill does not include any mention of cases in which severe fetal anomalies are a factor. If a twenty-week ban is to be passed, it must be compassionate enough to understand the full scope of why late-term abortions occur—few women want to terminate a pregnancy after five months, knowing the sensory abilities of the potential child. This is why 99 percent of all abortions take place prior to the twenty-one-week mark, and why the late-stage abortions that do occur are often under extreme, health-related circumstances.

Therefore, if this bill becomes law, it should also include a way of exempting women and their doctors from the ban. Such sensitive legislation must acknowledge the shortcomings of all medical legislation—namely, that government agents do not know enough to legislate the actions of the medical community. If a twenty-week ban is going to be put in place by the government, it should be flexible enough to accommodate the tragic circumstances that strict legislative measures can’t account for (and often are the cause of such late-term abortions). For example, in cases in which the child suffers from severe medical issues, health care professionals and the women they work to protect should be able to seek exemption from an abortion ban.

Not only does the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act appear to be superfluous legislation, in that it only bans 1 percent of abortions, but it also poses a serious threat to the right to choose provided by Roe v. Wade. The superfluity of the bill reveals that it is more of a “foot in the door” than anything else—its purpose is to re-open the abortion debate. By initially choosing to target abortions after the twenty-week mark, House Republicans hope to take advantage of the lack of popular information about late-term abortions. After all, the average American is unaware of the fact that only 1 percent of abortions occur after twenty-one weeks, and that such late-term abortions are usually medically required. From the public’s perspective, it seems almost cruel to advocate for the availability of such a procedure. The choice to lead the charge against reproductive rights with this piece of legislation is no accident, but rather a strategic move on the part of House Republicans to restart the debate from a position which has public support.

The seemingly paranoid prediction that the war on reproductive rights will be renewed under the Trump administration is further supported by the recent declaration of Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services that life starts at conception. The very same declaration promises to protect every life, starting at conception, and therefore it seems safe to assume that the twenty-week ban is only the beginning of the restrictions that will be placed on women’s health in the coming years.

The featured image for this article is licensed under Creative Commons. The original image can be found here.


Kate Healy


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