Some members of Congress, pressured by extreme anti-abortion groups, have chosen Women’s Health Week to move forward on legislation that that would ban abortion nationwide at 20 weeks, putting politicians in the middle of decisions that should be left between a woman and her doctor. Since January, politicians in Congress have introduced 29 measures to restrict access to safe and legal abortion, inserting abortion restrictions into everything from education bills to human trafficking legislation.
This is the second time politicians have introduced this abortion ban, having failed the first time in January. What’s more is they are falsely claiming to have “fixed” the bill, while in fact making it worse. The new version adds what could be near impossible hurdles for women who are survivors of sexual assault seeking safe and legal abortion – potentially requiring three separate medically unnecessary appointments with two separate providers over the course of 48 hours. The bill also denies an exception to survivors of incest over the age of 18 and continues to require a woman under the age of 18 to report to law enforcement or a government agency, before they can receive safe and legal abortion.
To be clear: Abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare, and it often happens under complex circumstances – the very kinds of situations where doctors need to have every option available to care for their patients.
This legislation is opposed by medical experts and by most Americans, including 62 percent of Republican voters who have saidCongress should not be focused on a 20-week abortion ban. Even Congresswoman Renee Ellmers has said her Republican colleagues have misplaced priorities and that pushing this anti-women’s health agenda is not a good idea.
Statement from Cecile Richards, President, Planned Parenthood Action Fund:
“At Planned Parenthood, our top priority is to make sure that every woman can make her own medical decisions and has access to high-quality health care.
“While no woman should have to justify her personal medical decisions, the reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often happens under complex circumstances. We’ve seen what happens when politicians interfere in deeply personal medical decisions and tie doctors’ hands. In states that have passed laws like this, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations, needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons but unable to do so.
“This bill is really part of a much bigger agenda to ban abortion completely, which the American public overwhelmingly opposes. We hope Congress will defeat this misguided, dangerous bill and focus on moving the country forward.”
Five Reasons Congress Should Reject the 20-Week Ban
1. Abortion later in pregnancy is very rare and often happens under complex circumstances.
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.
- Nearly 99 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur before 21 weeks. Data, including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), shows that abortion has over a 99 percent safety record. And studies show women experience serious complications less than one percent of the time.
- Often, abortions later in pregnancy may involve rare, severe fetal abnormalities and serious risks to the woman’s health.
2. When politicians pass laws like this, it’s women and their families who suffer.
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 22 and a half weeks pregnant after receiving a ‘poor prognosis.’ ‘The thought of listening to my daughter struggle to breath 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 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.
3. A solid 60 percent of voters oppose 20-week bans when they understand the real-world impact these laws would have.
- The vast majority of Americans support access to safe and legal abortion, and they have for decades. Nearly 80 percent of the American public wants to ensure that abortion remains safe and legal; and three in 10 women have had an abortion at some point in their lifetimes.
- A solid 60 percent of voters oppose 20-week bans when they understand the real-world impact these laws would have. The majority of voters in key congressional districts (56-61 percent) will be less likely to vote for the representative if they vote in favor of the 20-week abortion ban.
- What makes the public uncomfortable — and what people actually oppose — is political interference in women’s personal health care decisions.
4. Doctors oppose these laws because they prevent them from giving their patients the best health care possible in an individual situation.
- The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes the 20-week abortion ban, calling it part of legislative proposals “that are not based on sound science [and] … that attempt to prescribe how physicians should care for their patients.”
- We’ve seen what happens when politicians interfere in these deeply personal medical decisions and tie doctors’ hands. In states that have passed laws like this, some women and their families have been put into unimaginable situations — needing to end a pregnancy for serious medical reasons, but unable to do so.
5. It’s part of a larger agenda to ban abortion completely.
- The president of a leading anti-abortion group, SBA List, described the 20-week ban as “the beginning of the end of abortion,” and the Co-Executive Director of anti-abortion group National Right to Life, Darla St. Martin, has said the 20-week ban ultimately “builds momentum” for more anti-women’s health laws and candidates. Since Roe v. Wade, the law of the land is that it’s unconstitutional to ban abortion before viability, which is what a 20-week ban would do.
- Any 20-week ban, regardless of politically motivated attempts to soften GOP attacks on women, is still the wrong agenda. In fact, 62 percent of Republican voters have said elected officials should not be focused on 20-week abortion bans.
- What’s clear is that this bill is part of a bigger agenda to ban abortion completely, and is one of nearly 30 times in just four months that Congress has tried to restrict access to safe and legal abortion, while more than 300 bills restricting abortion have been introduced in the states in the last four months.
- Sadly, all of the GOP presidential contenders have endorsed 20-week bans, as part of the same race to the bottom on women’s health we saw in the 2008 and 2012 primaries — with candidates trying to prove who can be the worst on women’s health, in order to attract support from the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, which doesn’t represent most Republicans or most voters.
- Instead of campaigning on an agenda that would put politicians in the middle of a woman’s personal medical decisions, candidates should ensure women and families are given the tools they need to succeed at home and at work.
If you have any questions, please contact the Planned Parenthood Action Fund media office at 212-261-4433 or [email protected].