Less than a month after the US House of Representatives passed a bill to ban women nationwide from having an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, the Senate has introduced a similar bill, despite condemnation and pushback from pro-choice advocates, doctors, and the White House.
Lindsay Graham, the Republican Senator from South Carolina and 2016 presidential hopeful, reintroduced the legislation Thursday, saying he would "insist" Senators vote on the bill, which is posited on the theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.
"Why do we want to let this happen five months into the pregnancy?" Graham said. "I am dying for that debate. I'm going to quite frankly insist that we have that debate."
The Senate legislation comes after the US House's passed The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act on May 13, which would prohibit doctors from performing abortions nationwide after 20 weeks unless the mother's life is in danger, or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Graham's bill places further restrictions on these women by requiring rape survivors to wait 48 hours before getting the procedure, during which time they must seek independent medical care or counseling. Minors under 18 must also report the rape to police before seeking an abortion under the Senate bill, which also does not allow exceptions for women who are experiencing severe pregnancy complications for wanted pregnancies or for those unable to obtain an abortion earlier because of financial difficulties.
The House Act passed despite the White House threats to veto the bill, which it said "would unacceptably restrict women's health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman's right to choose."
"Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor," the White House said in a statement.
This week, doctors called out the Senate bill for its lack of exceptions to the abortion rule, even in extreme circumstances, calling the legislation "cruel."
"This ban would force physicians to deny services, even to women who have made the difficult decision to end pregnancies for reasons including fetal anomalies diagnosed later in pregnancy or other unexpected obstetric outcomes," Dr. Mark DeFrancesco, the president of the American Congress of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, said in a statement Thursday. "This is simply cruel."
Pro-choice activists and some members of Congress have also opposed the bill for legal reasons, saying it directly contradicts the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling on abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, which allowed women the right to abort a pregnancy until the fetus was determined as medically viable, or could survive outside the womb, which the American medical establishment has generally determined to be between 22 to 24 weeks.
Democrat Senator Patty Murray of Washington called the Senate bill a "political attack" on women's rights and chastised its sponsors for meddling in women's ability to choose.
"I'm calling on Republican leaders to drop this dangerous political attack," Murray said in a statement. "Listen to women across the country who have made clear they don't need a politician at their doctor's appointments, and focus on the real challenges our country faces."
"This bill is utterly without compassion or concern for real women's lives," the American Civil Liberties Union's, Jennifer Dalven, who directs the union's Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. "This is the first step toward banning all abortions. No matter how we feel about abortion, we can all agree that a woman who has decided to have an abortion shouldn't face additional hurdles because a politician disagrees with her decision."
The push to block women's access to abortion has ramped up in recent months across the country, where a raft of new bills have been passed or introduced across various state legislatures. At least 19 states have either proposed or enacted abortion restrictions in 2015. Many have provisions that would force abortion delays or increase waiting periods, while others have sought to restrict funding to clinics, among other measures, in an effort to close abortion provider doors.
On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Senate also approved a bill banning non-emergency abortion after 20 weeks. The bill is even more restrictive than the US Senate bill, and denies any exceptions to rape or incest survivors after the 20 week period. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a prospective presidential candidate, said he would be willing to sign the bill into law when it landed on his desk, saying that women are "most concerned" about abortion in the "initial months" after a sexual assault results in a pregnancy.
Meanwhile, a Texas court upheld a state law Tuesday that would force abortion facilities to function like hospital-style surgical centers, and meet the same equipment, building, and staffing standards. The law could force nearly a dozen facilities across Texas to shutter, which would especially impact women in rural areas who seek abortions. The state's abortion clinics have already dropped from 41 to 18 since 2012. Texas lawmakers have been so enthusiastic about introducing anti-abortion-type legislation lately that they have even admitted they are out of ideas for abortion restrictions.
Florida Governor Rick Scott also signed a bill this week that requires a woman to first leave an abortion clinic, and return on another day before she is allowed to obtain the procedure. The additional trips will especially affect women, who must take time off from work or find childcare, as well as increase travel costs for patients. Scott has previously signed other restrictive abortion measures into law, including banning private insurance coverage for abortions, and forcing women to get an ultrasound, even though it is not required for medical purposes.
Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice advocacy group, said in an email that most of the new state abortion restrictions are "based on politics, and not medicine or patient safety."
"Let's call them what they are; cynical attempts to insert government into a woman's personal decisions in an effort to ban safe, legal abortion," she said.Follow Liz Fields and Arijeta Lajka on Twitter: @lianzifields & @arijetalajka