On Thursday, surrounded by a group of female anti-abortion activists, Sen. Lindsey Graham introduced an anti-abortion bill passed months ago in the House for Senate consideration. The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks, and proposes an alternative to the constitutional standard set by Roe v. Wade to determine the legality of the procedure. It's called the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," and it relies upon a scientifically-challenged assertion that fetuses can feel pain by, at the latest, 20 weeks of development.
When it was introduced in the House by Rep. Trent Franks last spring, anti-abortion legislators hoped to capitalize on the outrages of Kermit Gosnell's Philadelphia clinic to sway public opinion towards more restrictive anti-abortion laws. The bill passed in the Republican-controlled House in June. It includes exceptions to save the life of a mother, or in the case of a properly reported rape or instance of incest. It does not contain exceptions for severe fetal anomalies detected near or after the 20-week limit. In his introduction today, Graham argued that the bill was not about politics, but about saving lives:
"We are choosing today to speak up for all babies at 20 weeks, and trying to create legal protections under the theory that if you can feel pain the government should protect you from being destroyed by an abortion, which I imagine would be a very painful way to die."
The bill would only directly impact a tiny percentage of abortions performed in the U.S. as it stands: Just 1.3 percent of legal abortions occur after 21 weeks, according to statistics from the CDC. Most women who undergo the procedure do so in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, and 91 percent of abortions in the U.S. occur before the 12th week of pregnancy. And while the idea of limiting late-term abortions draws a slight majority — 55 percent — of support in polling, a simple limitation on abortions after 20 weeks is not the point (or the most likely effect) of the bill if it were to become law. That would be its challenge to current constitutional precedent.