By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - The Republican-led House of Representatives approved afar-reaching bill to ban a woman's ability to seek an abortion after 20weeks on a mostly party-line 228-196 vote Tuesday.
It stands nochance of becoming law under the Obama administration. The White Houseissued a veto threat Monday, calling the bill an "assault on a woman'sright to choose." The Democratic Senate also has not scheduled a vote onthe legislation.
However, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio,justified the vote as a response to the recent murder conviction ofPhiladelphia physician Kermit Gosnell for abortion procedures conductedin his medical clinic. "Listen, after this Kermit Gosnell trial and someof the horrific acts that were going on, the vast majority of theAmerican people believe in the substance of this bill, and so do I,"Boehner said.
The bill included an exemption for women who getpregnant through rape or incest as long as they first report the sexualassault to legal authorities. It was added at the last minute by HouseRepublican leaders after a broader Democratic amendment to add theexemption was defeated in the House Judiciary Committee last week. "Itshows a distrust of women and a lack of the reality of sexual assaults,"said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., regarding the legal conditions placedon the exemption.
The legislation stirred a heated debate in theHouse. The majority of Democrats opposed the legislation and argued thatHouse Republicans- 88% of whom are white males -were out of touch withwomen.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., the sponsor of the bill and along-time abortion rights opponent, was a target of criticism last weekwhen he commented in a June 12 committee hearing on the bill that the"incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy (is) very low." He later saidhe meant that third-trimester abortions of pregnancies caused by rapeare rare.
Republicans tapped a woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn ofTennessee, to moderate the House floor debate, although she does notserve on the Judiciary Committee that has jurisdiction over thelegislation. There are no Republican women on that panel. AnotherRepublican woman, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, presided over thedebate. Democrats also tapped a female lawmaker, Judiciary Committeemember Zoe Lofgren of California, to lead the debate for their party.
"This is an area that has overwhelming public support," Blackburn said. "This is a step that needs to be taken to protect life."
Thedebate invigorated outside groups and activists on both sides of theabortion debate. Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America,called it "the most important pro-life bill to be considered by the U.S.Congress in the last 10 years" and expressed confidence that it wouldeventually become law. Naral Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hoguecalled the bill "shameless politics" and accused abortion opponents inCongress of "catering to the most extreme wing of their political base."
Most states allow abortions up to the point when the fetusbecomes viable, generally considered to be about 24 weeks of pregnancy.Franks' bill would ban abortions that take place 20 weeks afterconception, which is equivalent to 22 weeks of pregnancy.
Tenstates have passed laws similar to the House bill, and several arefacing court challenges. Last month, a federal court struck down asunconstitutional Arizona's law, which differs slightly in banningabortion 20 weeks after pregnancy rather than conception.
Accordingto the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based reproductive healthresearch organization that supports abortion rights, in 2009 1.3% of the1.2 million abortions in the country, about 15,600, occurred 20 weeksafter the fetus was conceived.