House committee approves ban on abortions after 20 weeks

U.S. Rep Trent Franks, R-Ariz., right, speaks as U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., listens during a news conference where they endorsed Arizona Prop. 109 Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2010 at the Capitol in Phoenix. Proposition 109 would amend the Arizona state Constitution, making it a constitutional right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife lawfully.(AP Photo/Matt York)
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) (AP/Matt York)

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday signed off on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The bill would narrow the window currently set out by federal law and the Supreme Court, which bans most abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Some Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed similar laws in recent months.

The bill passed committee by a 20-12 vote and is headed for the House floor.

The so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was authored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) in response to the brutal abuses at a Philadelphia abortion clinic run by Kermit Gosnell. The physician was sentenced in May to life in prison in the deaths of three babies after they were born at his clinic.

A similar measure that would have applied only to the District of Columbia failed in the House last year. Franks expanded the bill to cover the whole United States in response to the Gosnell case.

Supporters of the bill cite a study that fetuses can feel pain as early as the 20th week of pregnancy.

“Knowingly subjecting our innocent unborn children to dismemberment in the womb, particularly when they have developed to the point that they can feel excruciating pain every terrible moment leading up to their undeserved deaths, belies everything America was called to be," Franks said in a statement after the vote. "This is not who we are.”

But Franks is drawing heat for some of his comments during Wednesday's committee hearing. While discussing an amendment that would carve out exceptions for rape and incest, Franks said "the incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low."

Democrats quickly likened the remark to some made by then-Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) during his 2012 Senate campaign. Akin said at the time that women's bodies are able to prevent pregnancy from occurring during "legitimate rape" -- a claim not backed up by scientific studies. Akin later apologized.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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Aaron Blake · June 12, 2013