In the summer of 2013, the House of Representatives passed a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is two to four weeks earlier than Supreme Court precedent allows. This year, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised anti-abortion groups that if he became Majority Leader, he would bring the bill up for a vote in the Senate.
Now that Republicans have gained control of the Senate, making McConnell their likely new leader, the 20-week ban may at least make it to the floors of both chambers.
"In a Republican Senate, under my leadership, we would have the kind of real debate on the issues that the American people want," McConnell told the audience at the National Right to Life Conference.
"For six years, the president has been isolated from this growing movement," he added. "He will be forced to listen to the cause that's brought us all here this morning. Senate Democrats would be forced to take a stand."
McConnell had previously urged the Senate to pass the 20-week ban, known as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, in a more direct appeal. "It is time for America to join the ranks of most other developed nations around the world and restrict abortion at least at the point at which science tells us that unborn babies are capable of feeling pain," he said in a statement in March. "Let’s take up this important pro-life legislation and send it to the President."
The bill, introduced in the Senate by Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), would prohibit women from having abortions in the second trimester based on the scientifically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
By framing the issue in terms of fetal pain and appealing to people's emotions, the anti-abortion movement is gaining momentum on the measure. It has already passed in multiple states and the U.S. House of Representatives. The Susan B. Anthony List name the bill its top legislative priority.
“Tonight’s overwhelming victory for pro-life candidates signals the fact that the bottom has fallen out of the abortion-centered ‘war on women’ strategy,” said SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement Tuesday. “We are encouraged with the new pro-life Senate and look forward to a vote on our top legislative priority, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This compassionate, popular legislation will protect the lives of more than 18,000 unborn children per year.”
Abortion rights advocates and doctors' groups, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose the legislation on the grounds that it interferes with a woman's and her doctor's decision-making and is not "based on scientific evidence." And while the bill has exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, it leaves no room for a woman who experiences severe medical complications late in her pregnancy, such as a grave fetal anomaly or health risk to the mother.
The bill also flies in the face of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that protects a woman's right to choose abortion up until the fetus is viable outside the womb, or around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy.
NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood said they hope the Senate listens to the American people on reproductive health issues, given that many Republican candidates won by running like Democrats on abortion and birth control.
“Many of these races should have been landslides, but women’s health kept them close," said Cecile Richard, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "In several key races, Republicans won by significantly moderating their positions on women’s health and disavowing their own records. They won as moderates, and the American people expect them to govern as moderates."