Why We Should Care About the House Passing a 20-Week Ban on Abortion

House Armed Services

Last Tuesday, the GOP-presiding House of Representatives passed the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” Under this Act, if it is to pass the Senate, no person will be able to access legal abortion services 20 weeks or more after conception. The evidence regarding fetal pain used to back up these views, moreover, has been called into question by scientists. Despite the claims of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), for example, that there exists a “scientific consensus” for its basis, there is currently little evidence about such pain and the majority of the claims remains inconclusive.

In the past year, one of the many driving issues behind the so-called “War on Women” has been whether or not fetuses should be conferred the sanctity of life. As a result, reproductive rights have been called into question by many of these politicians, which evinces quite clearly that they believe that they can claim ownership to pregnant bodies of cisgender women and trans men. All of the presiding bodies that have decided the legal status of abortion and the majority of those testifying for its necessity have been cisgender males. On numerous occasions, no less, a number of cisgender women and transgender men have been denied an opportunity to voice their own experiences when they have attempted to provide personal testimonies. Why are we basing laws off of quasi-scientific claims and not on the voices and lived experiences of the people who do and can get pregnant? Particularly those people who are forced to take that pregnancy to term and face any consequences that result thereafter? This legislation here does not even exempt cases of incest, rape, when the life of the pregnant person is at risk, or for people under 18.

Such a bill, if it were to pass Senate, will have a serious yet disproportionate effect on American citizens. But what happens to women who  are denied abortions? Women who need access to abortion services and are unable to do so suffer devastating consequences. If cis women and trans men have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, they are 3 times more likely to live under the poverty line 2 years later. While there is a great deal of privilege in the men speaking of abortion without ever having to take a pregnancy to term themselves, there is also the privilege of never having to take an unwanted pregnancy to term, because of the law or because of the high costs for people who cannot afford them. Although abortions are technically legal throughout the U.S., an array of economic, logistical, bureaucratic and legal blockades impede people from accessing abortions. Our current constitutionally protected right to an abortion, secured by Roe v. Wade and the 4th amendment, has been under continuous revision since the Hyde Amendment and beyond. People with low incomes, particularly people of color and people under 18, have increased difficulties paying for the high costs of abortions, particularly as recent sonogram mandates and overnight stays further raise the price of abortion access. Low-income people who attempt to raise the funds for an abortion that escalates in price over time, furthermore, will try to save up for the service only to find its price more expensive and thus unattainable for purchase. Should they then be required by law to take these pregnancies to term?


What’s the message here? Why is this a central, recursive tenet of many of the GOP’s political philosophies? Why is this the mainstay of many of their political ideologies and affiliations? And why aren’t we talking about much more important things, like the economy, unemployment, the for-profit prison system, immigration reform, homelessness, anti-trans*&-queer* violence, student loans or the NDAA’12-instated right of the state to indefinitely detain its own citizens?

Besides seeming like a clear diversion from the things that really matter in politics today, especially considering the global fiscal crisis, why exactly do GOP politicians find it necessary at this very moment in time to limit women’s access to abortion? The paradoxes in many of the GOP ethical views on the sanctity of life for all people are evidenced by the maintenance of current gun laws, the condoning of our wars abroad, the treatment of undocumented immigrants, sustained brutality and violence within prison systems, the erasure of the violence trans*/queer* people face, the extensive homelessness crisis, the attempts to thwart minority inclusion in the renewed Violence Against Women Act [VAWA], justifications for stop-and-frisk policies and racial profiling, and so on. Why is it that today, people who need to access abortion services wait longer than those trying to attain guns? Despite the rhetoric of many GOP politicians, the ‘sanctity of life’ argument seems to stop once a child is born. All people who require an abortion should have access to it, since it is a constitutional right and often a medical necessity, particularly if the woman cannot survive taking her pregnancy to term.

Thankfully, the Senate is unlikely to pass the bill, so we don’t have to begin organizing on a national scale yet, but we must begin to think about how we can change the discourse on abortions and shift the dialogue to other, more pressing matters.

Image sources: Jezebel and Slate

  1. So, I understand why it’s ridiculous to not exempt those in the case of rape, incest, under 18, etc. I am not sure why having the ban be at 20 weeks is necessarily a bad thing. If the person doesn’t want to carry the child to term, they have 5 months to decide under this new legislation. IIRC, the current ban is till the third trimester… so roughly 6 months. What is so crucial about this last month?

    1. I completely understand your sentiments, because I myself too had thought the same thing a long while back. But, as the numerous narratives Wendy Davis recounted this week in her filibuster attest to, to restrict access to abortions after 20 weeks has serious consequences for the most marginalized of cis women and trans men. Many people do not feel able, for numerous reasons, to bear a child. But most importantly, as a cissexual male, I realize that I have absolutely no right to speak on the behalf of trans men and cis women’s bodies: it’s paternalistic and quite often dangerous to people’s lives. Neither of us knows what’s best for each and every individual who may consider having an abortion, whether it be for economic, health, interpersonal, cultural, corporeal or contextual reasons. Nor does such a law readily make room for individuated exceptions. To insist on a blanket ban on abortions after 20 weeks fails to account for the incredible variety of reasons why people want and often need abortions. Unfortunately, moreover, people die because they are unable to access safe, legal abortion services, particularly poignantly evinced by the deaths of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland and “Beatriz” of El Salvador. People actually die because they are denied abortion services. While I do believe that all life must be allowed to live, I firmly believe that the life of the pregnant person must come first.

      Lori of Feministing.com wrote a great piece on why access to and the right of abortion must be secured for all people in light of Wendy Davis’ filibuster. Here is a particularly insightful excerpt:
      “Last Thursday, 700 of you showed up and stayed long into the night to tell your personal stories and to help delay the bill as much as possible. You stood in front of the House Committee, most of the members clearly not caring about your words. You all talked of what it meant to be a single low-income mother in Texas, what it feels like to abort a child after 20 weeks and why no one should make that decision for you, how these bills would specifically hurt you as a transgender woman, how you were raped by your brother and cannot imagine what it means not to have a rape or incest exception, what it feels like as a young black woman to be told by a lot of white men about what is best for your body, and how your severe fibromyalgia would make a pregnancy practically unbearable.”

  2. My favorite GOParadox is the repeated attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, combined with their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, combined with their attempts to limit women’s rights. If you are pregnant, you cannot purchase an individual health insurance plan. This will change in 2014 when portions of the ACA kick in preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. So if you are pregnant and lose your job or otherwise lose your health insurance, you’re SOL. You can go to Planned Parenthood for prenatal care…until they run out of money. And the GOP is making it difficult for you to “cure” your preexisting condition.

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