Republican law banning abortion in DC dies in House

By David Ferguson
Wednesday, August 1, 2012 9:48 EDT
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AZ Rep Trent Franks by Gage Skidmore Flickr
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A proposed ban on all abortion procedures after 20 weeks of gestation in the District of Columbia has failed in the House of Representatives. House Bill 3803, which was sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and would criminalize abortion in the nation’s capital, fell short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

Planned Parenthood director Cecile Richards greeted the bill’s defeat with relief. In a press release, she said, “Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatment. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy.”

The bill, based on research that purports to show that a human fetus is able to feel pain at 20 weeks, would have imposed criminal penalties on women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them. The Hill’s “Healthwatch” blog claims that when Republicans brought the bill to vote under a suspension of House rules, thus requiring the two-thirds majority, the measure was doomed from the start, but that both parties were using it as a means of engaging in a bit of political theater ahead of the elections in November.

“Republicans used the 40-minute debate to argue that despite the decades-old Supreme Court ruling allowing abortions, Congress should act to spare unborn babies from the pain associated with that procedure,” wrote “Healthwatch” blogger Pete Kasperowicz.

Bill sponsor Trent Franks said from the House floor, “The gruesome late-term abortion of unborn children who can feel pain is the greatest atrocity in the United States today.”

Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ) brought charts and diagrams to the debate and described the mechanics of a late term abortion in gruesome detail.

“There’s a special tool to squeeze that little baby’s head and crush that head and then pull it out,” King reportedly said. “Who of us could watch such a procedure? Who of us could conduct such a procedure?”

Democrats fired back, arguing that House Republicans were using their unusual power over the laws of the city of Washington to exercise undue control over its citizens and flout the U.S. Constitution.

DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said, “This is the first time in our history that a standalone bill has come to the floor to deny the residents of the nation’s capitol the same constitutional rights as other Americans. We won’t stand for it.”

House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) said, “We have jurisdiction over the District of Columbia, but we do not have the prerogative to produce unconstitutional programs for them.”

Seventeen Democrats voted with the Republicans. Six Reublicans voted against, and two more simply voted “present.”

(image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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