"There is no science or medicine behind this bill -- just politics. This is the 29th time in four months that Congress has tried to restrict abortion, which is outrageous. The American public does not want politicians to interfere in women's personal medical decisions and does not want Congress to spend its time on this."
It's National Women's Health Week, so what are anti-women's health politicians in the U.S. House doing? They are pushing a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks with very limited exceptions and onerous reporting requirements — and they're planning to vote on it tomorrow, May 13.
Let’s get one thing straight: This bill is a dangerous attempt to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion, and chip away at abortion access completely. Here’s what you need to know about the 20-week abortion ban, and why it is so important for you to tell your representative to vote NO on it.
If this bill sounds familiar, it's because anti-women's health politicians originally planned to vote on it in January. They pulled the bill from the House floor in order to work out what one politician called a “definitional problem with rape” — that is, the requirements the 20-week ban would place on a rape survivor to grant her an exception to access a safe and legal abortion.
As extreme as January’s 20-week abortion ban bill was, it’s now just as bad — if not worse — and continues to victimize sexual assault survivors.
About the Ban
While women should not have to justify their personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under complex circumstances — the kind of situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available.
The 20-Week Abortion Ban (H.R. 36):
- Outlaws abortion at 20 weeks nationwide
- Includes limited exceptions for life-threatening pregnancies, sexual assault survivors, and incest survivors (only if they are a minor)
- Forces sexual assault survivors to wait for 48 hours and survivors of incest who are minors must file a police report to qualify for the exception and access safe, legal abortion
- Requires survivors (during their mandated 48-hour waiting period) to undergo compulsory, unnecessary medical treatment or counseling in order to access safe, legal abortion — a senseless delay in their access to constitutionally protected care
Where Americans, Doctors, and the President Stand
We know where President Obama stands on the idea of banning abortion at 20 weeks: steadfastly against it. In multiple statements, the White House said it strongly opposes a nationwide 20-week abortion ban, saying it "would unacceptably restrict women's health and reproductive rights.”
What’s more, the White House said that if this legislation crossed President Obama’s desk, his senior advisors would tell him to veto it. So would we. As would many of you: A majority of voters (78% of Democrats, 62% of Republicans, and 71% of Independents) say this is the wrong issue for Congress to be spending time on. And 61% of all voters say abortions should be legal after 20 weeks.
The experts are on our side, too. In fact, doctors with the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) told politicians who are trying to push bans like these to “get out of our exam rooms.” Other leading medical organizations (like the Physicians for Reproductive Health) have joined ACOG in condemning 20-week bans because they prevent doctors from giving their patients the best health care possible in any given situation.
What This Means for Women and Families
When politicians pass laws like this, it’s women and their families who suffer. Just consider Jenni Lane’s story — she is a Michigan woman who needed to end her pregnancy because of a severe fetal anomaly. Her experience led her to call on politicians to stay out of women’s exam rooms:
It is my plea that elected officials respect the range of women’s complex, lived experiences and stop making laws that threaten a woman’s ability to make the decision that is right for her.
Rather than passing judgment and harmful restrictions, elected officials should listen to women’s stories and trust them to make deeply personal medical decisions with their doctors. A recent story in the Dallas Morning News highlights a GOP member in Texas working to preserve the fetal anomaly exception in that state after having been extraordinarily moved by one woman's personal testimony in 2013.
His letter says he was particularly touched by the story of a woman from Hutto, who had an abortion when she was 22½-weeks pregnant after receiving a “poor prognosis.”
“The thought of listening to my daughter struggle to breathe and gasp for air if only for a few minutes while I couldn’t help gave me nightmares,” Carole Wall Metcalf of Hutto testified in 2013. “My daughter died peacefully and instantly. Blanket treatment for medical issues is surely a recipe for disaster.”
This is quite similar to the statements from a Virginia Delegate in 2012 who cast the deciding vote in defeating a 20-week ban after one woman's testimony there. After the vote, Blevins said he was swayed by the tearful testimony of a woman who told lawmakers she ended a mid-term pregnancy after learning the fetus she carried had serious developmental defects.
The woman, Tara Schleifer of Haymarket, told committee members the 20-week demarcation in Obenshain’s bill would limit the time families facing such a tough choice have for research and additional testing before making a critical decision. Blevins told reporters “it was just traumatic for me to sit there and think about what that woman was going through and not give her any consideration.”
These women deserve compassion and respect. Not barriers, condemnation and shame.
Out-of-touch politicians have no business standing between a woman and her doctor — and definitely should not interfere with her personal medical decisions. If these gynoticians get their way, this bill could be the beginning of the end of safe and legal abortion in this country.
We need a massive public outcry to stop this bill — and your representative needs to hear from you today. Tell Congress to vote NO on the 20-week abortion ban!
Carl Baloney Jr. is the Legislative Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.