Abortion Ban: Why Did the GOP House Pass This Bill?

“No abortion!” they cry. “Why?” we ask. “Because look! A fetus can masturbate!”

This is essentially the logic behind Rep. Michael Burgess' (R-Texas) fight for more abortion restrictions. On Monday evening, Burgess told his colleagues at the House of Representatives to “watch a sonogram of a 15-week baby, and they have movements that are purposeful.” Essentially, since they perform movements like stroking their face, placing their hand between their legs (for males), they must feel pleasure. Thus, why would it be too much of a leap to think that they may feel pain? It’s for this reason Burgess and other Republican Party members firmly believe abortion should be banned at 20 weeks rather than the accepted 24-week marker of viability under Roe v. Wade.

Fortunately, it’s a well known that legislation intended to further restrict women’s reproductive access is virtually dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Unfortunately, abortion opponents in the House are intent on applying this pressure anyways. The legislation, which would criminalize any abortion or abortion-related service after 20 weeks of pregnancy (less than halfway through the gestation period), was spearheaded by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and is strongly endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee. This cutoff is based on the highly contentious idea that a fetus begins to feel pain at 20 weeks.

However, at the core of it all, one can’t help but question the validity of the facts that are being cited in the anti-abortion crusade. For example, as much as Rep. Burgess may believe his arguments hold scientific weight, there seems to be a technical disparity. While something like genitalia may develop within 11-14 weeks, it is not fully formed and functional — or as Rep. Burgess would describe it, “pleasurable” — with a certain defined gender until about 18-21 weeks into the pregnancy. Interestingly, most major medical bodies in both the United States and the United Kingdom have refuted the claim that a fetus feels pain any time before the third trimester, or about 28 weeks into the pregnancy. 

Another example of Republican misleading is the high-profile case of illegal abortions by doctor Kermit Gosnell, which Rep. Franks referred to as he attempted to expand the scope of his anti-abortion measures to a nationwide culture war. “The trial of Kermit Gosnell exposed late abortions for what they really are: relocated infanticide,” Franks writes. Sadly, however, many of these references only tend to twist the facts and make it appear as if all abortion doctors are guilty of similar crimes. But in reality, eliminating access to late-term abortion services will actually force more desperate women to resort to risky providers like Gosnell when they have no other options.

These various attempts at banning late-term abortion services have been a popular anti-choice tactic by many in the Republican Party, whose ultimate agenda is to chip away at Roe v. Wade. Thus far however, and thankfully for many of this country’s females, 20-week bans haven’t been able to hold up in court. Just last month, an appeals court struck down a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona, as well as similar measures in conservative Idaho and Georgia. There will likely be little movement in the abortion policy dispute any time soon simply because the facts any side must consider are still up for debate.