A photo of a pro-choice protest with people holding signs with messages like, "Stop The War on Women" and "Abortion On Demand & Without Apology"

Madmanmikey/Creative Commons 2.0

20-week abortion ban

Madmanmikey/Creative Commons 2.0

Can the GOP Deliver Trump’s Promise of a 20-Week Abortion Ban?

With their horrendous Graham-Cassidy bill DOA, Republicans are breathing new life into an old anti-abortion bill. And this time, they may just be able to come through, to the detriment of us all.

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On January 26, 2016, Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List headlined an impassioned plea to the GOP to pick someone—anyone—other than Donald Trump as their presidential nominee.

“As pro-life women leaders from Iowa and across the nation, we urge Republican caucus-goers and voters to support anyone but Donald Trump. On the issue of defending unborn children and protecting women from the violence of abortion, Mr. Trump cannot be trusted…” she and a number of other female anti-abortion-movement leaders wrote in a joint letter, adding, “America will only be a great nation when we have leaders of strong character who will defend both unborn children and the dignity of women. We cannot trust Donald Trump to do either. Therefore we urge our fellow citizens to support an alternative candidate.”

By May, having no choice but to accept Trump as the GOP nominee, the movement did an about-face, trading their unwavering support for four promises from the potential president: only appointing judges who oppose the Roe v. Wade decision, stripping Planned Parenthood of any government funding, to make the Hyde Amendment permanent, banning any taxpayer funding to pay for abortions, and to sign a 20-week abortion ban into law. “Donald Trump has made very specific pro-life commitments on the campaign trail,” Dannenfelser wrote just four months after declaring “anyone but Trump.” “We believe Mr. Trump, who has already taken strong positions on the life issue throughout the primary campaign, will join us on offense.”

The future president has not let them down. In less than nine months in office he reinstated the global gag rule, banning funds from any international group that so much as mentioned abortion. He appointed far-right Justice Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, putting that legal body back in limbo over whether or not the Constitution guarantees a right to an abortion. He signed an executive order rescinding President Barack Obama’s last-minute effort to prevent states from blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements and family planning funding.  And over and over he pushed for Congress to pass an Affordable Care Act repeal that would also put a ban on any federal funding to Planned Parenthood.

President Trump has followed through on nearly every promise he made to abortion opponents except for one: a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks (22 weeks gestation, the typical medical means of tracking fetal development). Now, that ban could very well be coming his way. Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced in a press conference that there will be a vote on H.R. 36, the so-called “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act “ on Tuesday, October 3. The vote will get the ball rolling on what could likely be the biggest threat to abortion rights in history.

There’s little doubt that the bill will easily pass the House, as it has done many times in the past. In fact, that may be the exact reason that the bill is being voted on just now. The GOP is staggering from the their crippling embarrassment over once more failing to repeal and replace Obamacare, despite only needing a mere 50 votes. The 20-week ban is an easy red meat bit of legislation that will pass without any effort, giving Republicans a win to offer supporters who are beginning to wonder if they are capable of passing any bills at all.

Whether it can get through the Senate is another matter. The last attempt to pass the ban in that chamber was a showboat vote that was never expected to get the 60 votes needed to proceed.  Before that, both the House and the Senate battled over whether or not to allow sexual-assault survivors an exemption from the ban. Even if they had somehow managed to agree and pass legislation, however, it was doomed to be signed law as long as President Barack Obama was in the White House to veto them.

That’s all changed now. President Trump got his electoral college victory through the grassroots voter efforts of abortion opponents who were promised a 20 week ban if he won, and it is unlikely he will break his word to them. While the law would no doubt be challenged in the Supreme Court, a decision would probably lay in the hands of swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, and the outlook for a win for abortion rights is dubious at best.

While the White House (and the Supreme Court) are now more favorable for a 20-week federal ban to become law, the Senate vote may be harder to pass than it was in 2015. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Senate trended more in favor of abortion rights after the 2016 election due to a few seat flips, and now has a 40-vote block. The question is whether they will be able to pull in the one additional vote needed to filibuster and keep a 20-week ban from getting a vote.

It’s that maneuvering and its subsequent media attention that is likely inspiring Republicans to move on the ban in the first place. There are three Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 who identify as pro-life: Indiana Senator Joe Donelly, Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, and there’s little doubt that this vote will be used against them in their reelection campaigns, regardless of which way they vote. Meanwhile, there are a number of other vulnerable Democrats up for election whose pro-abortion-rights stances could be weaponized against them in campaigns—Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp in particular—making this vote one that has the potential to lose them their seats come the midterms.

A 20-week ban is essentially a no-lose vote for the GOP. Even if they can’t overcome a Senate filibuster, they will still gain the material needed for advocacy PAC campaign ads come 2018, and the means to again motivate social conservatives to show up en masse at the polls. Plus, if they somehow do manage to pass the bill, they will have the court challenge they’ve wanted so desperately since the first ban in Nebraska—the case that could remove the “viability” standard for good and unravel abortion rights back to the pre-Roe era.

However, while the vote may be coming down the pipe now in order regain some of the face the party lost after once more failing to fulfill their campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, but the actual optics of the two campaigns right next to each other couldn’t be worse. To announce the upcoming 20-week-ban vote, House Majority Leader McCarthy trotted out Micah, a young boy born at 22 weeks gestation as the poster child for why it should never be legal to abort that late in a pregnancy.

Micah is indeed a miracle—currently only about a third of babies born between 22 and 23 weeks survive without dramatic medical issues. Micah is also alive and healthy due to the expensive and extensive care that both he and his mother received, including prenatal care, neonatal care and follow-up care.  Micah spent months in a neo-natal intensive care unit, was treated for chronic lung problems, and, according to a news report, was experiencing speech delays at 3 years, which likely required speech therapists as well.

Each and every resource that Micah needed were on the list of things that could be discarded or denied had Obamacare successfully been repealed. The Graham-Cassidy bill allowed insurers to deny prenatal care—the same care that makes it more likely for micro preemies like Micah to survive at a younger age. It would have stopped making insurers cover pre-existing conditions, a disaster for those born so young and by extension so ill. It would have eliminated lifetime spending caps, forcing families like Micah to go into bankruptcy just to keep a child like him alive.

And Dannefelser and her allies were willing to accept every one of these changes as long as it meant that the no co-pay birth-control mandate was eliminated and Planned Parenthood was defunded in the process.

It’s hard to believe it is a coincidence that on same day that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that the Obamacare repeal effort was once again dead, the House Majority Leader held a press conference announcing a federal 20-week-abortion ban is alive and kicking. After all, the president has fulfilled every promise that he made in order to get elected, but congressional Republicans haven’t come through even once.

Now, it’s the GOP’s turn to finally come through on their own promises. And if they can’t manage to defund Planned Parenthood, they apparently hope an unconstitutional pre-viability federal abortion ban will make a good consolation prize.


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