The United States House of Congress passed legislation Wednesday that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. The House voted 242 to 184 in favor of the 'Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act', with all but four Democrats opposed and all but four Republicans in favor of the legislation. This measure has little chance of becoming law. It faces a vote in the Senate, where Democrats can obstruct the bill, and should it reach President Barack Obama's desk then it faces a possible veto. This vote has been criticized by women's rights advocates.
Abortion remains a divisive issue in the US and conservatives Congress members routinely introduce legislation, sometimes symbolic, proposing to tighten restrictions on abortion. The Supreme Court, in a 1973 ruling, had legalized abortion up to the point of fetal viability, generally interpreted by states as up to 24 weeks. However, some states have adopted laws setting the limit at 20 weeks after conception.
House Speaker John Boehner said, "We have no higher obligation than to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, to defend the defenseless." Republican Virginia Foxx said, "Late term abortions are agonizingly painful and they are happening all too often in our nation."
An earlier version of the bill failed in January, 2015, when Republican women pulled their support over a requirement that women who had been raped report the incident to law enforcement before gaining access to care. The revamped version of the bill removed that clause for adults, and would allow abortions in the case of rape or where the mother's life was in danger. But House Democrat Jackie Speier said, "Lawmakers should stop playing doctor and leave medical decisions to a woman and her caregiver. Women who go through these experiences go through them with so much pain and anguish, and here we are as members of this body trying to don another white coat."
The vote was held symbolically on the second anniversary of the conviction of US doctor Kermit Gosnell who killed three newborns, by severing their spinal cords with scissors after failed attempts at late-term abortions. He is presently serving a life sentence in prison. The Republicans argue that the public is increasingly opposed to abortion. But the proportion of Americans who want to ban abortion has held steady, from 22% in 1975 to 21% in 2014.