In early October, the House of Representatives passed a bill making abortions at 20 weeks illegal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced recently that the Senate will vote on the bill, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, and that the legislation is supported by “virtually all” of McConnell’s members. The bill makes exceptions for instances where the life of the mother is at risk or in situations of rape and incest. Perhaps the introduction of this bill comes as no surprise arising from an administration that is consistently and shamelessly devoted to stripping women of their autonomy and health: President Trump has already promised his commitment to signing the 20-week ban; Vice President Pence has a long history of championing anti-abortion organizations and legislation, and the Trump administration tried to block a pregnant undocumented teen’s access to abortion.
There’s no need to beat a dead horse. We know that Trump and the mostly old, white men in his administration not only do not care about women, but openly demonize them and try to make reproductive health as difficult to obtain as possible.
The 20-week ban is not about protecting the “unborn” or somehow honoring life. It is a direct, unconstitutional attack on Roe v. Wade that is setting the foundation for gradually chipping away at abortion rights and resources.
Interestingly, 99 percent of abortions happen before 20 weeks; abortions that are performed after 20 weeks are usually due to life-threatening complications in the pregnancy. At that point, doctors and women need all the medical resources and information available to make sound, healthy decisions about their options.
While the 20-week ban does leave room for some exceptions, there should not have to be exceptions, and they are troubling at best. For instance, the rape exception only applies if the woman received medical treatment or counseling 48 hours before getting the abortion, or if she reported the rape to the police. Two out of three rapes, however, go unreported to authorities for a number of reasons. Women fear retaliation, humiliation, and the threat of not being believed. Women do not always feel comfortable reporting assault to police. This bill would force victims to report their assault and/or seek medical treatment, actions that women are not always able to do. Lack of transportation, insurance, or proximity to a place where a woman could receive help all effectively prevent women from fulfilling these obligations, even if she wanted to.
Women should not have to prove or justify why they are terminating a pregnancy. Doctors should not have to work within or around a bill when they should be dedicating their expertise and time to determining the best action to take for pregnant women who experience severe complications.
Additionally, the bill is highly oppressive because it essentially criminalizes doctors. Not only would the bill make it illegal to perform an abortion after 20 weeks, it could also charge those who perform the procedure with jail time, fines, or both. This leaves doctors’ hands tied. The 20-week ban would not only take away the bodily rights of women, but also the legal medical freedoms and decision-making powers doctors have. This is terrifying. Reproductive health is strictly between a woman and her doctor; take the doctor out of the equation, or at least put a harsh limit on which procedures she/he can perform and under what circumstances, and you have pregnant women with literally nowhere to turn and few options for help.
The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act places the emphasis on the fetus and disempowers the woman. The bill’s sponsors and supporters do not trust women to make their own decisions. Nor do they want women to have the power to make those decisions, if the situation ever arises. The 20-week ban, if passed by the Senate, would be terrible for women because it takes away one more guarantee of reproductive freedom. It makes pregnancy that much more daunting, because if there are complications that would require a termination, women and doctors are substantially restricted.