NEW YORK― House Republicans held a hearing on a bill Wednesday that would ban abortions after the fetal heartbeat can be detected ― before many women would even realize they’re pregnant.
The proposed 6-week abortion ban has virtually no chance of becoming federal law; even Republican Gov. John Kasich, who opposes abortion, vetoed a similar measure in Ohio last year. The House GOP is likely floating the more extreme bill as a strategy to make one of their legislative goals, the 20-week abortion ban, seem more palatable to moderate senators.
The anti-abortion movement has acknowledged that the 20-week ban is the most likely vehicle for successfully challenging the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision ― and while the House has passed it several times, the Senate so far hasn’t had the votes to do so.
“They should just state their goal, which is to ban abortion entirely, but they won’t because they know they lose when they are honest about their intentions,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “Instead, they are now running a play we’ve seen before at the state level, which is to introduce bans simultaneously ― one more extreme than the last ― in order to slowly move the goal posts.”
Republicans in Ohio’s state legislature used the same strategy in 2016. They passed both a 6-week abortion ban and a 20-week ban, allowing Kasich to call himself a moderate by vetoing the former and signing the latter. Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, thanked him for supporting the “pro-life mission” ― which is, ultimately, to ban abortion.
“By signing S.B. 127, the 20-week ban, Governor Kasich will save hundreds of unborn lives each year and he positioned the state of Ohio to directly challenge Roe v. Wade,” Gonidakis said in a statement. “The 20-week ban was nationally designed to be the vehicle to end abortion in America. It challenges the current national abortion standard and properly moves the legal needle from viability to the baby’s ability to feel pain.”
The Supreme Court decided in Roe that women have a constitutional right to access abortion up until the fetus would be viable outside the womb ― around 22 to 24 weeks of pregnancy. The 20-week ban aims to inch up that limit based on the medically unsupported theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point.
Fewer than 1 percent of women have abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and those who do have often just discovered a severe fetal anomaly that is incompatible with life or health. But forcing the Supreme Court to revisit Roe would give the anti-abortion movement an opening to challenge the legality of the procedure in general.
Republican congressmen were fairly clear about this intention in the House hearing Wednesday, using the most inflammatory rhetoric possible to talk about abortion. They referred to second-trimester procedures as “dismemberment” and directly compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust.
“It’s time to emancipate every little unborn baby,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
But many women’s health advocates are not taking the bait on the 6-week ban. Hogue warned the Senate on Wednesday that there is nothing moderate about limiting abortions at 20 weeks, “especially to women who face the most complex medical situations imaginable.”
“It won’t work and should be called what it is: a bait and switch to harm women’s lives,” she said.
“Women don’t need Republicans in Congress telling us what to do with our bodies,” said Democratic National Committee CEO Jess O’Connell in a statement. “This hearing is another dangerous and disgusting assault on women’s constitutional right to safe and legal reproductive health care.”