Last week, the House passed the most restrictive abortion bill to come to a vote in Congress in the past decade.
Despite the efforts of Democrats and a few moderate Republicans who spoke out against the unconstitutional bill, which bans almost all abortions after 20 weeks, it passed 228 to 196. This is only the latest blow in the GOP’s all-out assault on women’s reproductive rights.
Republican leadership considered the bill, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, an “appropriate” response to the outrageous crimes of Kermit Gosnell, whose horrific abortion clinicinflicted numerous injuries and deaths. But the GOP learned the wrong lessons from the Gosnell case, which illustrates the dangers of illegal abortion and the damage that ensues when disadvantaged women without access to safe clinics are forced to put their lives in the hands of a murderer.
The bill’s scientifically unsound premise is that fetuses can feel pain. This was most helpfully articulated by right-wing Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.), a former OB-GYN, who argued — in an official committee hearing — that fetuses can masturbate, so they must be able to feel pain as much as they feel pleasure. Burgess may have staked out a unique place in the House’s rich oratorical history, but keep that in mind the next time Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) insists that his caucus is focused on job creation.
With Democrats controlling the Senate and the White House, the bill has no chance of becoming law. But it’s an important milestone in the House’s rightward march and a disturbing example of the lengths to which the GOP will go to pander to their base.
It’s also highly scripted political theater, with Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) cast as the bill’s female lead.
But hiding behind a woman — especially one as anti-woman as Blackburn — isn’t going to fool anybody. How can women trust a lawmaker who voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act? If you put lipstick on a sexist, she’s still a sexist.
As Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said, “The whole  election was about women realizing that Republicans don’t care about their health-care decision-making.” It seems that Republicans have yet to learn this lesson, and there’s no doubt that women will fight back.
Level-headed Republicans are nervous about the repercussions. At a time when Congress is less popular than colonoscopies, Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) acknowledged, “It’s a stupid idea to bring this up.”
Dent is worried — and it’s no wonder. A week before the legislation’s passage, during a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee — a meeting in which no women were present on the Republican side of the aisle — Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) opposed including exceptions for rape and incest because he claimed that the number of incidents of pregnancy after rape was “very low.” In a last-minute revision, Republicans added to the bill very limited exceptions for survivors of rape and incest, but they apply only if the woman reports the crime. Protecting the health of the woman wasn’t even on the table.
Yet, this isn’t just a women’s issue. Seven out of 10 Americans support Roe v. Wade , and last week’s bill is nowhere near where the majority of Americans stand on this issue and, more broadly, on reproductive rights. Safe access to reproductive care — and the ability for women and their partners to make the most personal medical decisions with their doctors — is essential for healthy families and healthy communities.
While this bill won’t become law anytime soon, supporters of choice would be foolish to see it as merely a symbolic gesture. Bills just like it are being enacted in states across the country. In 2011, 92 state laws were passed restricting access to abortion. Last year, 43 bills were passed, according to the Guttmacher Institute. This year, 14 states — Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah — have already enacted 32 measures imposing new restrictions on abortions.
Since 2010, after a wave of Republican electoral victories at the state level, 11 states have passed laws outlawing abortions performed at or around 22 weeks. In Georgia, Idaho and Arizona, the courts have pushed back against laws banning procedures after 18 weeks — but much more needs to be done to stop this wave of extreme measures.
The impact of these laws reverberates far beyond any given state. They chip away at women’s basic reproductive health, rights and equality and threaten Roe. They create a climate for extremists in Congress to push for ever more draconian restrictions on women’s reproductive access. They fuel the belief that women cannot and should not make their own decisions about their health, their families and their lives.
Right-wing lawmakers would be wise to remember that women are not children — they’re voters. And come 2014, they won’t hesitate to register their disgust at the ballot box.