Senate Committee Hears Abortion Bill, But Won't Hear SCOTUS Nominee

Senate Democrats are frustrated that the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee wants to "turn back the clock on women’s health care."

The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee held a second hearing Tuesday on an abortion ban at 20 weeks of pregnancy -- a bill that the full Senate already voted down in September.

Senate Democrats skewered the committee for reviving a failed abortion bill instead of allowing a hearing to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

"While the Republicans on that Committee say they won’t take the time to do their most important actual job, they were happy to spend their time this morning on their favorite hobby: doing everything they can to turn back the clock on women’s health care," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said on the Senate floor. "And while they say they won’t even hold a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee to fulfill their Constitutional responsibilities -- they were eager to hold a hearing to attack women’s constitutional rights."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he will not grant due process to whomever President Barack Obama nominates to the Supreme Court and hold a hearing on that candidate.“We’re not going to drop any nominee into that election-year cauldron,” he said last week.

But Grassley did move forward with the abortion hearing on Tuesday. The committee considered a bill introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that would ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy -- two to four weeks earlier than the fetus would be viable outside the womb -- even in cases of severe fetal anomalies or where the mother's health is in danger. The bill only contains an exception for women who would die without the abortion.

"We're one of seven countries that allow" abortions at 20 weeks, Graham said. The other six are Canada, the Netherlands, China, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. "We're trying to get out of that club, quite frankly."

In addition to banning abortion before viability, Graham's bill also requires doctors to do everything they can to save a baby born alive after an abortion attempt. Republicans brought four witnesses to the hearing, including Melissa Ohden, who claims she survived an abortion in 1977. Ohden said her biological mother tried to go forward with an abortion procedure, thinking she was 20 weeks along in the pregnancy, but the abortion failed because the woman was actually 31 weeks -- nearly eight months -- pregnant. "I learned the abortion was forced upon her against her will," Ohden said.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said the bill puts women in danger by giving politicians the power to make a complicated medical decision that a woman should be able to make with her doctor. One of their witnesses, Christy Zink, said she made the difficult decision to have an abortion at 22 weeks of pregnancy after doctors discovered late into her pregnancy that half of her son's brain had not developed. Doctors told her that if her son even survived the birth, he might never make it out of the hospital and would live with constant pain and seizures.

"My daughter’s life, too, would have been irrevocably hurt by an almost always absent parent," said Zink, whose daughter was five years old at the time. "The decision I made to have an abortion at almost 22 weeks was made out of love and to spare my son pain and suffering."

If Graham's bill had been law at the time, Zink said, she would not have been able to make the decision she did. "It would have heaped unnecessary struggle on a time of grief," she said.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), the only woman senator present at the hearing, said she remembers a time before abortion became legal in 1973 when her classmates at Stanford University would threaten to commit suicide if they became pregnant, or they flew to Tijuana to have dangerous illegal procedures. She accused her Republican colleagues of driving a "sustained political effort to make it as hard as possible" for women to access safe and legal abortions.

"Women should be afforded control over their own reproductive systems," she said. "This effort, if it is successful, will be to drive women underground way from safe clinics and hospitals and into areas of serious danger."

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