THE BLOG
01/23/2015 06:54 am ET Updated Mar 25, 2015

Fraud and Betrayal Over the 20-Week Abortion Ban: Shame on These Women

Alex Wong via Getty Images

Madeleine Albright once said there is a special place in hell reserved for women who don't help other women. But what's going on in the U.S. House right now is even worse. There are women who are not only failing to help -- they are actually using their power to hurt other women. For that, I would put them where Dante put frauds and traitors, in the last two circles of hell.

These women, Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Virginia Foxx (R-Va.), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Candice Miller (R-Mich.), Martha Roby (R-Ala.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) co-sponsored H.R.36, a dangerous bill that would put women's lives and health at risk and is flat-out unconstitutional unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

Slated for a vote on the anniversary of Roe, the bill was pulled at the 11th hour because some Republican women convinced leadership that the narrow rape exception might remind voters of Republican Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comment or Republican Richard Mourdock's claim that a pregnancy from rape is a "gift of God." They figured that could make them look bad. (You think?)

But the deceptively named "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," will be back. The Washington Post reported,

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), the bill's lead sponsor, had predicted Wednesday that his proposal would easily pass because it "has overwhelming support among the American people."

Leaders of several conservative groups said Thursday that they will continue pressing GOP leaders to pass Franks's bill.

"The results of the 2014 midterm elections made clear that this Congress has been given a direct mandate to protect unborn children and their mothers from late-term abortion, stop taxpayer funding of abortion and defend conscience rights," said the leaders of the Susan B. Anthony List, the March for Life Education and Defense Fund and the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee.

In striking down Arizona's 20-week ban, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals called a 20-week ban "unconstitutional under an unbroken stream of Supreme Court authority, beginning with Roe and ending with Gonzales." The Court wrote:

Roe identified fetal viability as the earliest point in the pregnancy when the state's interest becomes sufficiently compelling to justify not just regulation of the abortion procedure, but proscription of abortion unless necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Since Roe, the Supreme Court and lower federal courts have repeated over and over again that viability remains the fulcrum of balance between a pregnant woman's right to control her body and the state's interest in preventing her from undergoing an abortion.

The very name of this latest legislative assault on women's rights is based on a falsehood. There is no such thing as a pain-capable unborn child at 20 weeks. So let's set the record straight by taking apart, one by one, the most often cited myths about the 20-week ban.

Myth: Fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks.

Nope, that's junk science. Despite numerous attempts by conservatives to prove fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, the evidence keeps coming up empty. A fact sheet from University of California, San Francisco's collaborative research group and think tank, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) says,

Brain circuitry responsible for relaying some types of sensory information may begin developing around 24 weeks' gestation. However, the presence of the "wiring" does not necessarily mean that the circuits are actually functional. Assuming a relationship between the two is not supported by scientific evidence.

Or, as Dr. Mark Rosen, who pioneered anesthesia in fetal surgery told the New York Times,

"You can make a telephone call, but not till wires that connect our phones exist. You can say the wire now exists, but nobody's turned the service on."

Myth: Abortion is riskier at 20 weeks.

Nope. This is a classic propaganda tactic, as it slinks right past the key question, riskier than what? The fact is, terminating a pregnancy in the first trimester (up to 12 or 13 weeks) is generally safer for the woman than after that early stage. But abortion at 20 weeks is still safer than childbirth. Even ultra-conservative women's rights opponent Mary Balch recently acknowledged this:

You know that a mother's risk of death by abortion after a particular time--in this instance let's say 20 weeks pregnant--the risk to the mother's life rises to .09 [for] every 1,000 abortions. But let's compare the other risks of a woman's health. We know, for instance, that if she was to get liposuction that there's .19 deaths for every 1,000 procedures. If you look for facelifts, it's .2 per 1,000 procedures. For C-sections, 1.98 per 1,000, versus vaginal deliveries, which are .63 per 1,000.

Myth: The U.S. public supports a 20-week ban.

Nope. In fact, when the question is asked in context, the vast majority of people want pre-viability abortions, including those at and after 20 weeks, to remain safe and legal. A 2013 poll conducted by Hart Research Associates for Planned Parenthood found that by a whopping 33 percentage points (61 to 28 percent), respondents said an abortion at or after 20 weeks should be legal if the fetus is not viable and the woman's personal or health circumstances are such that she shouldn't continue the pregnancy.

Of course pollsters can get a different result if they lead (or passively allow) their subjects to believe that fetuses are viable at 20 weeks. But that type of poll is deceptive. It doesn't deserve to be part of the national debate about this issue.

Myth: We must criminalize abortion at 20 weeks because of Kermit Gosnell.

Nope. This myth is courtesy of John Boehner. As Laura Bassett reported in The Huffington Post,

Asked whether the bill might turn off women voters, Boehner replied, "No. Listen, after this Kermit Gosnell trial and some of the horrific acts that were going on, the vast majority of the American people believe in the substance of this bill and so do I."

That's a non-sequitur. The editorial board of USA Today wasn't buying it:

For starters, Gosnell flouted Pennsylvania's 24-week ban, in the process killing three fetuses born alive. An earlier ban would probably have been no greater deterrent.

Moreover, many grave, even lethal fetal anomalies aren't discovered until or near 20 weeks, at which point some women decide to terminate a pregnancy. Bans will prevent reputable doctors from performing those abortions, leaving a void that criminals such as Gosnell will slither in to fill.

So, let's review the justifications for a 20-week abortion ban: Junk science. Misleading polling. Non-sequiturs. Deceit.

But wait, there's more! Republican leaders are sure to bring the bill back after they figure out, as Lindsay Graham said, "to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape." Their original plan was to have only women argue for it on the House floor, even though just six of the bill's 156 cosponsors are women. They can't even be honest about that.

Join me in telling Congress to oppose the 20-week ban. It's time to stop perpetuating myths and inventing false reasons to justify attacks on women's reproductive healthcare.