The House is expected to vote today on a 20-week abortion ban that President Donald Trump has said he would sign into law.
HR 36, sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ-8), would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy in all 50 states. Women who violate the ban will be subject to criminal penalties in the form of a fine and up to 5 years in prison. The bill has exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest or face life-threatening complications, but with added difficulties—a woman can only obtain an abortion after 20 weeks, if she is raped, if she attends counseling and reports the assault to police; minors who are victims of rape or incest must go through law enforcement to qualify.
The bill has 158 cosponsors and is expected to pass. Similar bills were introduced in 2013 and 2015; both passed the House but were blocked by democrats in the Senate. The concept of a 20-week abortion ban has also been steadily gaining traction in individual states, where lawmakers intent on chipping away at abortion access have put them into place in order to limit women’s constitutional access to abortion. 17 states have 20-week bans in place, and 24 states have restricted later-term abortions. These laws fly in the face of medical science and the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, relying instead on faulty claims that a fetus can feel and react to pain at 20 weeks.
The reality is that such legislation puts women’s lives at risk: Women who face disruptive life events or must save up for an abortion often undergo the procedure after 20 weeks. Furthermore, pregnant women do not find out about life-threatening or otherwise serious fetal abnormalities until tests completed at the 20-week mark. A recent report also found that revealed that women and children are more likely to experience more health issues in states with higher numbers of anti-abortion laws, affirming that ending safe and legal access to abortion doesn’t end abortion—it only increases the number of unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions and deaths related to pregnancy complications.
“Politicians have absolutely no right to judge and denigrate women who seek out abortion after 20 weeks,” Gaylynn Burroughs, Policy Director at Feminist Majority, said in an email to members. She ended her email with a jarring reminder: “Wealthy women in need of a post-20 week abortion have the means to travel outside the country to obtain one legally and safely. It is low-income women who will suffer and die.”
Unsurprisingly, a 20-week ban is also not the only attempt to erode abortion access on the docket, nor is it the only measure the Trump administration may be considering. Anti-abortion lobbyists met with Trump administration officials last month in order to voice support for a House bill that could ban abortion at as early as six weeks. That legislation does not provide exceptions for women whose lives are at risk because of psychological or emotional distress, and it could put abortion providers in prison for up to five years who perform so-called prohibited abortions.This renewed effort to pass a 20-week ban in Congress—and the President’s stamp of approval—should come as no surprise. The Trump administration has been working since day one to limit women’s reproductive rights, and promised as much on the campaign trail when Trump himself said that women who obtain abortions should be “punished.” Once inaugurated, he reinstated and expanded the Global Gag Rule, putting millions of women’s lives at risk around the world and forbidding family planning and reproductive health providers from even discussing abortion with patients if they receive U.S. aid. Soon after, the administration cut $32.5 million in funding for The United Nations Population Fund. When the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that denounced abuse and discrimination toward women, the U.S. disagreed with the text presented because the resolution includes support for abortion care. As debates domestically raged on about the fate of women’s healthcare in the midst of four failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act—attempts which put funding for Planned Parenthood, abortion coverage by insurance providers and contraceptive coverage at risk again and again—the Trump administration came out in full force to support and endorse them.