Why The Republican Effort To Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks Isn't Pro-Life

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Just days after the United States saw the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, instead of focusing on gun control, House Republicans were busy passing a bill that directly attacks women's right to choose.

The legislation, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, bans abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the mother's life. On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham and 45 other Republicans introduced the bill to the Senate. At the moment, it seems unlikely the legislation will pass in the upper chamber, as it needs 60 votes and Republicans only have a 52-seat majority. However, President Trump signaled he would sign the bill into law if it comes to his desk.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker spoke with Refinery29 shortly after the House vote took place on Tuesday. When asked about the timing of the vote in relation to the Las Vegas shooting, he was deeply critical of the GOP.

"The hypocrisy of the Republicans who are pushing measures like this is profound," Booker said. "The irony of saying you are 'pro-life' and not wanting to do common-sense gun safety reform ... that to me is outrageous."

Republican leaders in the House and Senate signaled this week they have some degree of interest in banning gun-conversion kits ("bump stocks"), but have largely refrained from addressing other types of gun-control legislation such as changing the national background check system or blocking gun dealers from being able to sell weapons if the FBI doesn't complete the buyer's background check in three days.

Instead, they've focused their energy on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The idea behind the bill is to "stop the suffering" of the unborn, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. But even though Republican politicians argue a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, there's no scientific evidence to support that claim. What researchers have concluded instead is that the neurological wiring to feel pain doesn't develop in a fetus's brain until between 23 and 30 weeks. Further, studies involving premature babies seem to suggest they're not able to feel pain until 29 or 30 weeks.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
Photo: TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP/Getty Images.

For NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue, the legislation doesn't have anything to do with "stopping the suffering" of the unborn or "the sanctity of life."

“You have a GOP caucus that completely, 100% identifies as ‘pro-life.’ And yet, all they’ve done this week, is allow the children’s health insurance collapse, taking healthcare away from millions of children in this country; is refused to address what has become the number-one priority, which is reasonable gun safety, so our families can go to concerts and not fear for their lives," she told Refinery29 in an interview.

According to a 2009 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 1.3% of all abortions in the U.S. take place after 20 weeks of gestation. But even though the procedure at that mark is not a common, it typically involves pregnancies that are not viable. For example, anatomy scans, which can show whether there's any abnormalities, are performed between 18 and 22 weeks. Banning abortion procedures after 20 weeks would mean women who find out their unborn child has no survival chances would be forced to carry the pregnancy to term — even if they believe the most compassionate option is to terminate the pregnancy.

"God bless men in America, but we need more men who are championing these issues."
Cory Booker

Over at NARAL, the organization is mobilizing people across the country and asking them to call their senators. After all, Hogue believes the decision to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks is very complex and personal — and the one-size-fits-all policy approach Republicans are championing is not the answer.

"We’re definitely making sure the senators have everything in front of them to understand they’re the least qualified people to be making these decisions for women who are facing the question of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy," Hogue said.

For Sen. Booker, it's also men's jobs to get involved in defending reproductive rights. "God bless men in America, but we need more men who are championing these issues," he said jokingly but also a bit exasperated.

This support is crucial because, in the end, the 20-week abortion ban and other efforts to curb women's reproductive rights such as defunding Planned Parenthood or rolling back Obamacare's birth control mandate not only harm women, but everyone in the country.

Booker stressed that eliminating reproductive health measures or going back to the pre-Roe v. Wade days shouldn't even be on the table: "These are policies that hurt Americans, that undermine the quality of life, that makes us a nation where we see grievous actions going on as opposed to empowering women with the ability to make their own healthcare decisions ... not some politicians in Washington who want to take away their rights to privacy and freedom."

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