July 30, 2012

LEGISLATION THAT WOULD ban late-term abortions in the District is set for a vote this week on the House floor under a procedure that is normally used for non-controversial things like naming post offices or honoring folks back home. That the Republican leadership is suspending its rules for this bill suggests it’s more interested in putting on a show to placate special interests than actually passing the measure. Or it thinks infringing on the authority of a local government to limit women’s constitutional rights is no big deal. Either way, it’s a misuse of Congress’s time and another cynical exploitation of the District to advance others’ political agendas.

A vote has been set for Tuesday on the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act (H.R. 3803), sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.). Under the bill, abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — dubiously judged to be the point beyond which fetuses supposedly experience pain — would be prohibited except to save the life of the mother. Ninestates have enacted similar legislation. But this would be a first for Congress, and the National Right to Life Committee has called passage its No. 1 legislative priority.

With 222 co-sponsors, approval in the House would normally be assured, but House leaders have decided to suspend the rules, so two-thirds of those present must vote for the measure to pass it. Debate will be limited and no amendments allowed. Observers think it will be a stretch to get the requisite two-thirds; besides, there is little chance that the Democratic-controlled Senate or the White House would go along. But that won’t stop the issue from being demagogued or used as a rallying point or an appeal for money in the upcoming presidential and other national elections.

What gets lost in the gamesmanship are the lives that could be impacted. During Tuesday’s limited debate, someone should read the powerful words of Christy Zink, a D.C. woman who knows the pain of terminating a wanted pregnancy because of gross fetal abnormalities. “I understand any citizen’s hesitancy when the issue of the right to middle-term to late-term abortion rises,” Ms. Zink wrote in an opinion piece in Sunday’s Post. “But I also know from my own experience that this bill would have calamitous ramifications for real women and real families, and that the women it would most affect could never imagine they would need their right to abortion protected in this way.”