House lawmakers voted 220 to 154 to pass the bill, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to pass the measure under the suspension of normal rules. A bill banning “sex-selection” abortions failed by a similar margin with similar rules in May.
The bill, authored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), would prohibit abortions in the District except to protect the life of the mother after 20 weeks of pregnancy, under the theory that fetuses are capable of experiencing pain beyond that point. The medical community is divided on that question.
Just before the vote, Franks said late-term abortions are “the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today.”
In the District, he noted, “Abortion is completely legal for any reason up until the moment of birth. Under the Constitution, the Congress and the president clearly are responsible for this abortion-until-birth policy.”
But several Democrats blasted the measure as an unconstitutional restriction on women’s rights and the rights of D.C. residents. Though she could not vote on the bill, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) urged her colleagues to defeat the measure.
“The folks behind this bill care nothing about the District of Columbia,” she said. “They have picked on the District to get a phony federal imprimatur on a bill that targets Roe v. Wade.”
“Bills based on pain or principle would not target only one city that has no vote on a bill that involves only the residents of that city,” she added. “Women have pulled the cover from a bill with a D.C. label, because they know an attack on their reproductive health when they see it.”
District officials strongly opposed the bill, which they believed would usurp the city’s right to make its own laws. D.C. has clashed with both the Republican-led House and the White House over abortion, particularly since President Obama agreed to sign a ban on local-government-funded abortions in the city as part of a broad spending deal last year.
Eight states have passed “fetal pain” laws similar to the bill before the House. That includes Franks’ home state of Arizona, whose bill was upheld by a federal judge Monday after an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit alleged that it was unconstitutional.
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