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Pro-Choice Activists Scored a Huge Victory After Failed Senate Abortion Vote

The Senate has voted down a bill aimed at banning abortions after 20 weeks.

by Katelyn Harrop
Feb 1 2018, 4:45pm

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Much to the dismay of the loud people protesting outside of your local Planned Parenthood, the Senate has voted down a bill aimed at banning abortions after 20 weeks.

It’s a harsh blow to anti-choice activists who had considered the bill, sponsored by pro-life poster boy Lindsey Graham, a top legislative goal for 2018. But the bill’s failure, which counted in at a 51-46 vote, didn’t come as a surprise. Republicans only hold a two seat majority in the Senate, compared to a 45 seat lead in the House where the 20 week abortion ban was passed quickly along party lines.

The bill is effectively, but not technically, dead. Monday’s vote was geared at blocking a filibuster against the bill, but fell short by 55 of the 60 votes needed to do so, making reception of the bill’s discussion widely unlikely going forward.

The bill’s aim was simple: place a complete ban on performing, or attempting to perform an abortion after the 20-week mark, or else risk up up to five years in prison. While the bill didn’t directly prosecute people seeking a 20-week abortion, pro-choice advocates noted the bill as both archaic and unconstitutional.

“Instead of addressing the serious and pressing challenges that people are facing, Republican leaders are debating today whether to trust women to make their own healthcare choices."

“The fact that the anti-choice GOP would waste time and taxpayer money on an unconstitutional abortion ban shows that their obsession with controlling women’s bodies and lives knows no limits,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement following the vote. “...their focus on this bill reveals their true priorities: to punish women, ban abortion, and try to score an ideological win to appeal to their fringe base.”


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The bill, which Graham aptly titled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, leans heavily on the emotional idea that a fetus begins to feel pain at the 20 week mark. But there’s little conclusive scientific evidence to back this up. In fact, most research suggests that fetuses begin to feel pain between the 23 and 30 week mark, or even later in the case of premature births.

Despite Monday’s Senate vote, 20-week ban laws will likely stay in effect in at least 20 states who have already passed similar laws.

Instead of standing on scientific ground, advocates for progressive reproductive legislation say the bill is based on an arbitrary banning period pushed forward to satisfy a campaign promise made to right-wing anti-choice groups during Donald Trump’s presidential run. Senators on both sides of the aisle also balked at the timing of the bill, which prioritized the ban’s discussion over pressing budget discussions and other time-sensitive issues.

“Instead of addressing the serious and pressing challenges that people are facing, Republican leaders are debating today whether to trust women to make their own healthcare choices,” said Washington Senator Patty Murray on the Senate floor. “That’s right, while this country is waiting for us to come together and solve problems, Republicans are wasting precious time with a politically motivated, partisan bill engineered to drive us apart and hurt women.”

Despite Monday’s Senate vote, 20-week ban laws will likely stay in effect in at least 20 states who have already passed similar laws. It’s important to note that almost 99 percent of abortions happen before the 21 week mark, and often coincide with extenuating circumstances such as an inability to access care, intimidation, or abuse. The restriction goes even further in states including Indiana and Ohio by requiring a second physician to be present in the case of an abortion after the 20 week mark. A 20 week ban almost always exists alongside other restrictions including waiting periods and mandated counseling.

The bill, which Graham aptly titled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, leans heavily on the emotional idea that a fetus begins to feel pain at the 20 week mark. But there’s little conclusive scientific evidence to back this up.

The Senate’s decision is good news for reproductive rights, and could suggest a promising shift, as the bill gained even less traction than it did when first introduced in 2015. But this is only the beginning of the fight for reproductive healthcare in 2018. House GOP’s “Heartbeat Protection Act,” aimed at banning abortions after a heart beat is first detected, is still ticking away at the committee level. So is the Conscience Protection Act, which would allow health service providers and insurers to refuse abortion services or coverage on moral grounds.

But it’s not all bad news. GOP leaders seem to be backing off repeal-and-replace plans for the ACA after failing to do so in 2017, and Trump paid little attention to ACA and reproductive issues in last night’s State of the Union address. With that said, Trump’s cabinet remains stacked against reproductive health, so keep an eye out for incoming attacks in 2018.

Join the #Fight4BirthControl campaign to step up to out of touch lawmakers that want use your health care for political points.

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