WASHINGTON – A bill by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Glendale, to ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy failed to get the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House Tuesday.
The House voted 220-154 for the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, shy of the 250 votes needed to make up the two-thirds of those present.
It is the second such defeat this summer for Franks. In May, his bill that would have outlawed abortions based on the race or gender of a fetus was supported 246-168 but was also shy of the 276 votes needed to pass as a special measure.
The latest bill faced sharp criticism from Democrats, who accused supporters of meddling in the city’s affairs and using the D.C. bill to win favor with pro-life groups.
“The bill has no provision whatsoever for a woman that has been the victim of rape or incest,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who said that a girl who was a victim of incest could conceivably be compelled to “bear her sibling.”
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., called the bill “a direct assault” on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision recognizing a woman’s right to have an abortion.
But supporters said the bill is needed to protect the rights of unborn children and to spare them from the pain that they argued a fetus can feel at 20 weeks.
“Unborn children can feel pain,” said Franks, but opponents don’t want to admit that.
“It is barbaric in the purest sense of the word,” he said of abortions after 20 weeks.
The vote split largely along party lines, with only 17 Democrats voting for it and just six Republicans voting against it. In Arizona, all five Republican lawmakers voted for the bill and two of three Democrats voted against it. Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, did not vote.
The bill would have made it a crime to perform or attempt to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless the mother’s life was in danger. Anyone who violated the law would have faced fines and up to two years in prison.
The measure also would have allowed anyone who had been a woman’s health provider to seek an injunction to block an abortion, which opponents said would have let a school nurse or a woman’s childhood pediatrician step in to block the procedure.
“This bill does not even have an exception to protect a woman’s health” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.
But Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said the most common type of abortion after 20 weeks “includes dismemberment of a fragile child’s body.”
Franks said “little babies” were being “tortured” and that, “a child can be aborted in labor” in the district, which is why Congress needed to act.
He has said in the past that the district had repealed all its abortion legislation, which is why his was needed now. Passage of the bill, he said, would “at least demonstrate to the world that we still have a conscience.”
But the district’s non-voting member of Congress accused supporters of interfering with local government by forcing a law on the city that it did not want. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said she thought that Republicans believed in “local government, no federal interference.”
“If you believe that, you can’t pull it back only when it comes to the District of Columbia,” said Norton, who has accused Franks of being a “bully” with the district.
Norton and others asked the supporters why, if the bill was so important, they were limiting it only to the district.
The House vote comes just days before a similar Arizona law is set to take effect. A federal district court this week refused to block Arizona HB 2036, which would restrict abortions after 20 weeks, among other provisions. But opponents have vowed more legal challenges to the law, which could take effect this week, according to published reports.