The far-reaching bill was passed yesterday on a mostly party-line 228-196 vote. According to it, all the abortions past 20 week of pregnancy would be considered as a crime with a possible prison sentence.
At the moment at least 10 states of the country have approved similar laws, with those in Arizona and Idaho declared unconstitutional by federal courts.
“These late-term abortions are incredibly, incredibly painful” for the fetus, Republican Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said during floor debate. “The American public is with us on this.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate won’t take up the bill passed by the majority-Republican House, The Huffington Post reports.
“This bill is unconstitutional,” California Democrat Zoe Lofgren said on the House floor. “It’s a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide.
About two decades ago the court reaffirmed that the government has no right to ban abortions before the fetus is capable of living outside the womb, which is generally considered to begin at about 24 weeks.
The Obama administration said it “strongly opposes” the House measure and the president would veto it, Bloomberg reports.
Several medical groups, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have disputed claims that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
Pro-choice groups insisted that the passed ban is unconstitutional and would affect women just at the point of learning of a fetal anomaly or determining that the pregnancy could put the mother’s life in danger.
For that point, the bill includes an exception to the ban only in cases of a physical condition that endangers the life of the mother. In the Judiciary Committee last week, Republicans rejected Democratic attempts to include rape, incest and other health problems as grounds for exceptions.
House Speaker John Boehner told the media that after the murder case of Philadelphia abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, “the vast majority of the American people believe in the substance of this bill.”
Gosnell was convicted in May of killing three babies born alive at his clinic. The case energized anti-abortion groups, who said it exemplified the inhumanity of late-term abortions.
The original House bill, which was sponsored by anti-abortion leader Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., was aimed only at the District of Columbia, but it was later expanded to cover the entire nation after the Gosnell case received national attention.
Only 1.5 percent of abortions in the U.S. in 2006 were performed after 20 weeks, claims the Guttmacher Institute, which researches and compiles reproductive health data in New York.
“Paid maternity leave seems like something people who are pro-life and want to encourage women to have children should also encourage policies that support those women as they raise those children,” Phoebe Taubman, co-author of a recently released book called Babygate: What You Really Need to Know About Pregnancy and Parenting in the American Workforce.
“It comes off as contradictory but as I thought about it more, I thought well maybe it’s all actually of a piece to some extent so that people who are really anti-choice and are not at all talking about work-family, they don’t want women in the workforce to begin with.”