Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards said Wednesday that the family planning provider "expect[s] to defeat" a bill next week in the House of Representatives that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortions at 20 weeks based on the scientifically disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at that point. House Republicans are planning a vote on the bill on Jan. 22, the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark abortion ruling in Roe v. Wade. The Court ruled in 1973 that women have a constitutional right to seek abortion until the fetus would be viable outside the womb, around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Richards said the bill shows that the Republican-led Congress has the wrong priorities.
"This is an unconstitutional ban, and this is something we expect to defeat," she said. "The people of this country believe Congress should be focused on making people's lives better, and they shouldn't be involved in making personal medical decisions for women and their doctors."
Abortions after 20 weeks of gestation are very rare, and anecdotal evidence shows that women who seek such abortions often face a very difficult decision, such as a severe fetal anomaly discovered late into the pregnancy. But polls show that more than half of U.S. voters would support a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks, and Republicans are seizing on the opportunity to secure a major anti-abortion victory while they have a majority in the House and Senate.
“This is something we can all get together on,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), who sponsored the bill with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), told Politico. “The truth is this bill is a deeply sincere effort to protect both mothers and their pain-capable unborn babies.”
The House passed the same 20-week ban in 2013, but it never received a vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) aims to use his new leadership position to bring it to the floor.
But reproductive rights advocates say they won't go down without a fight. Richards said Planned Parenthood has 8 million supporters around the country whose lives have been improved by access to birth control and access to safe and legal abortion, because they were able to plan their families on their own timeline and pursue education and careers.
"Access to reproductive health care has completely changed life for women in America," she said. "Politicians who are trying to erase women's progress are on the wrong side of history."
Even if the the House and Senate pass the bill, President Barack Obama is likely to veto it, as he threatened to do when the House passed it in 2013.