Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday that bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation in the District of Columbia without exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the sponsor of the bill, said the 20-week ban is based on medical evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that point. "This is a bill to protect children from being torturously dismembered while they are fully capable of feeling pain," he told his colleagues during a mark-up of the bill on Wednesday.
The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, when asked about the fetal pain issue, said in a statement that it "knows of no legitimate scientific information that supports the statement that a fetus feels pain."
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee unanimously opposed the bill, not only because it challenges the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects abortions until the fetus is viable outside the womb, but also because it singles out D.C. women and lacks an exception for cases in which a woman's health is jeopardized by her pregnancy.
"This bill would jeopardize a woman's health and her ability to have children in the future," Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said. "In the case of rape or incest [it] would force her to bear her abuser's child, so I can't even fathom how such an absurd proposal could be seriously brought before this committee, except for one reason: It applies only to the women who reside in our nation's capital."
Republicans rejected several of the Democrats' proposed amendments to the bill, including Rep. Mike Quigley's (D-Ill.) amendment to allow pregnant women with cancer to undergo life-saving treatment that could be incompatible with the pregnancy and Rep. Jerry Nadler's (D-N.Y.) amendment to add an exception for when the health of the mother is at risk.
Franks said the health exception "would allow for easy circumvention by abortionists."
District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's (D) request to testify at the mark-up was denied, but she submitted testimony for the record.
"Republicans do not dare take on the women of this country who have voting Members of the House and Senate with a post-20-week ban on abortions," she said. "Instead, the majority has chosen a cheap and cynical way to make an ideological point during an election year. D.C. residents and officials...will never accept second-class treatment of our city and, most especially, of our women."
The bill now advances to a full House vote.