U.S. House of Representatives Passes 20-Week Abortion Ban

By Giuliana Berry, SIECUS Federal Policy Intern

On June 18, 2013, the 113th Congress’ House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797), introduced by Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ-8), by a vote of 228-196.[1] The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.[2] The initial version of the legislation did not include any exemptions to the 20-week abortion ban. Following controversy surrounding Representative Franks’ statement that “the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” however, the bill was revised to include several exemptions.[3] In addition to an exemption to the ban if the life of the mother is at risk, exemptions are allowed in cases of incest concerning a minor, or in cases of rape—though the rape and incest exemptions only apply if there is record that the case was reported to legal authorities.[4]

The bill is based on the scientifically disputed theory that a fetus can feel pain before the third trimester of pregnancy.[5] A similar bill introduced by Representative Franks in the 112th Congress criminalizing abortion after 20 weeks in the District of Columbia failed to pass the House.[6]

National reproductive choice and healthcare access organizations join SIECUS in opposing the bill. As Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) president, echoed the reproductive choice and health care access communities’ concerns with the ban;

…abortions later in pregnancy are extremely rare, with nearly 99 percent taking place before 21 weeks, but when they do happen it’s often in heartbreaking and unusual circumstances and women and their doctors need to have every medical option available to them…[the bill] would take deeply personal and often complex decisions about pregnancy out of the hands of a woman and her doctor.[7]

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down a similar law in Arizona that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, stating that the law violated a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus is viable outside of the womb.[8]

The bill is currently on its way to the Senate where it is not expected to advance. The White House has promised to veto the legislation should it be presented with the bill.[9]


[1] “H.R. 1797--113th Congress: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” www.GovTrack.us (2013) accessed June 24, 2013, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr1797.

[2] Tara Culp-Ressler, “Everything You Need To Know About The 20-Week Abortion Ban Advancing In The House,” Think Progress (June 18, 2013) accessed June 24, 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/06/18/2171791/national-20-week-abortion-ban-explainer/.

[3] Kathryn Smith, “House Adds Rape Exception to Abortion Ban Bill,” Politico (June 14, 2013) accessed June 24, 2013, http://www.politico.com/story/2013/06/house-adds-rape-exception-to-abortion-ban-bill-92833.html.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Jodi Jacobson, “Trent Franks, Abortion Bans, and the Fetal Pain Lie,” RH Reality Check (June 13, 2013) accessed June 24, 2013, http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2013/06/13/trent-franks-abortion-bans-and-the-fetal-pain-lie/.

[6] “H.R. 3803--112th Congress: District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” www.GovTrack.us. (2012), accessed June 24, 2013, http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr3803.

[7] “Planned Parenthood Denounces House Committee Passage of National 20-Week Abortion Ban,” Planned Parenthood, (June 12, 2013) accessed June 25, 2013, http://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/planned-parenthood-denounces-house-committee-passage-national-20-week-abortion-ban-41438.htm.

[8] Tara Culp-Ressler, “Appeals Court Strikes Down Arizona’s 20-Week Abortion Ban,” Think Progress (May 21, 2013) accessed June 24, 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/05/21/2043871/appeals-court-strikes-down-arizona-abortion-ban/.

[9]Barack Obama, "Statement of Administration Policy: H.R. 1797 - Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," (June 17, 2013) accessed June 24, 2013 http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/113/saphr1797r_20130617.pdf.

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