The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, ending an hours-long heated debate that included images of ultrasounds and accusations that lawmakers were just trying to frighten women.
Many of the lawmakers who supported the bill, an overwhelmingly Republican group, argue that the ban is essential because fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks.
“Very late term abortions are an extreme and barbaric practice,” Arizona Republican Trent Franks, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement on Facebook. “The U.S. is only one of 7 countries on Earth, including North Korea and China, which allow elective abortions after 20 weeks.”
However, according to a statement from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists — titled “Facts Are Important” — fetuses can’t feel pain before a woman is 24 weeks along. And that’s a conservative estimate — a 2015 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that fetuses probably can’t feel pain until at least 29 or even 30 weeks into the pregnancy.
Similar 20-week bans are somewhat common at the state level — 17 states ban abortion 20 weeks after a woman’s egg becomes fertilized, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The House bill does include exceptions for women to get an abortion after 20 weeks if her life or health is at risk, or if the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape. Even so, Wisconsin’s Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore — a rape survivor — denounced the bill, calling it a “cruel and ruthless attempt to undermine women.”
“These women are not standing on a street corner saying, ‘I want to have an abortion,’” said Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, echoing the many Democratic lawmakers who told stories of constituents who got abortions after 20 weeks after discovering that their fetus had some type of lethal anomaly.
This is the third time that the House has passed such legislation since 2013, and it’s highly unlikely that the ban will make it past the Senate. But what makes this time different is that this bill has the backing of the White House. On Monday, the Office of Management and Budget wrote in statement that it “applauds the House of Representatives for continuing its efforts to secure critical pro-life protections.”