The full House Judiciary Committee passed the highly controversial Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 1797) on Wednesday, setting up what will be an interesting House floor debate.
Realistically the bill probably won’t go anywhere, and if it somehow passes the House, it’s bound to die early in the Senate.
For the majority of the time, the committee's Democrats focused on the rape and incest argument. But as Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) noted, the bill is targeting abortions after almost six months, giving a rape victim plenty of time to obtain an abortion in the would-be legal time limit.
"Even if you reported [the rape or incest] within 48 hours, to wait until 20 weeks to have the abortion performed would be absolutely unacceptable," said Goodlatte.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said under normal circumstances he supports the rape exception.
“I can’t imagine the humility, the terror, the grief and humiliation for becoming pregnant as the result of a rape,” Gowdy said. “So I know it happens, and that’s why I support the exception.”
He didn’t support Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) amendment—which would have allowed exception for rape and incest—because of the 20-week timeframe.
“I didn’t see anywhere where it said report [the rape] within a week, within a month, or within two months,” Gowdy said.
Rep. Trent Franks came under fire for his comments on rape.
“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low,” Franks said. A commonly cited figure puts the number of pregnancies due to rape at about 5 percent. Franks later clarified his statement, saying he was alluding to the fact that late-term abortions due to rape were rare.
"I would hope that my comments would be heard in the spirit that they were offered," Franks said.
The health of the mother was also debated, with Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) offering amendments to preserve abortions after 20 weeks if the health of the mother was threatened, all of which were defeated along party lines. Franks pointed out that the bill already offers that exception in Section 3 that if “by reasonable medical judgment, the abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by physical order, physical illness, or physical injury, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.”
Gowdy re-focused the debate, reminding the committee of the purpose of the bill – that unborn children can feel pain. He brought up former execution methods such as burning, hanging, firing squad, and electrocution, and how later these were changed to lethal injection in order to be more humane.
“If it’s good enough for people who have committed some of the most horrific acts in this country, surely could we not be concerned a little bit about the pain of the most innocent victims in society?" he said. "Is that too much to ask?”
Gowdy also argued those opposed to the “constitutionality” of abortion don’t have to feel like they are treading on broken glass.
“We by no means relinquish our right to argue against precedent just because five members, or six members happened to have decided something,” Gowdy said. “I’ve listened to the president of the United States tell the Supreme Court to their faces at the State of the Union that they got it wrong.” He added that it is “legal balderdash” to have to accept the law just because of a Supreme Court decision—otherwise nothing would ever be overturned.
The bill is expected to hit the House floor around the second week of June.