WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday to enact new stringent restrictions on abortion, acting on an issue championed by social conservatives in the Republican majority and inviting a possible new challenge to constitutional abortion rights.
The bill approved largely along party lines would prohibit abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, with limited exceptions to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest, so long as they have been reported to law enforcement.
The final vote was 228-196. Six Republicans voted against the measure, while as many Democrats voted for it.
“We have a duty to protect American women and the unborn children of this country from harm,” said Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., who said the legislation was supported by “reliable scientific research” that a fetus could feel pain at 20 weeks.
The 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision allowed abortions until a fetus is viable outside the womb, generally considered to be at 24 weeks. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month struck down an Arizona law that also would have banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Other states with Republican-led legislatures have also pushed new abortion restrictions.
House Democrats protested the measure, calling it unconstitutional and a new assault by the GOP on women’s reproductive rights in a “war on women.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the measure. The White House said advisers would recommend that President Barack Obama veto the bill if it were to pass, calling the legislation “a direct challenge” to Roe vs. Wade that “shows contempt for women’s health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients’ health care decisions, and the Constitution.”
The bill was amended only last week to make an exception for pregnancy caused by rape or incest, after a hearing in which its sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., sparked an uproar when he argued against such a provision, saying that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
Democrats tied the statement to one from Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin last year about what he called “legitimate rape,” which hurt the party’s image among a key swing constituency: moderate women.
“I just find it astonishing to hear a phrase repeated that the incidence of pregnancy from rape is low,” responded Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. “The idea that the Republican men on this committee think they can tell the women of America that they have to carry to term the product of a rape is outrageous.”
Democrats also said the exceptions added by Republicans still fell short because they apply only when the rape or incest has been reported and women often are reluctant to report the crimes.
Distributed by MCT Information Services