Most late-term abortions would be outlawed under legislation shepherded through the House on Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming. The bill, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks, is a major priority of the GOP and conservative groups. It faces certain Senate defeat.
The House approved the measure by a near party-line 237-189 vote. Cheney, Wyoming’s lone representative in the House, helped oversee debate on the bill in her capacity as a member of the powerful House Rules Committee.
The bill would ban abortions after 20 weeks, arguing that is the point at which fetuses become capable of feeling pain.
“Extensive scientific evidence has made clear babies at 20 weeks of age can feel pain and survive outside the womb,” Cheney spokeswoman Maddy Weast said in an email. “We have a much better scientific understanding regarding this important issue than we did at the time Roe vs. Wade was passed and it’s our moral obligation to do everything possible to protect the sanctity of human life.”
Weast said Cheney was honored to manage the floor debate on the rule necessary for the bill to pass.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said fetuses cannot experience pain before at least 24 weeks of development. In an interview with The Associated Press, the group’s chief executive officer, Hal Lawrence, said “overwhelming” evidence shows fetuses younger than that have reflex activity but lack the neurological development to sense pain.
“They can’t tell what it is,” Lawrence said. “If you can’t interpret it, it can’t hurt.”
The measure would make it a crime for anyone to perform most abortions on fetuses believed to be 20 weeks into development. Violators could face five years in prison, though mothers undergoing such procedures could not be prosecuted.
Exceptions would be made to save the mother’s life and for incest and rapes reported to government authorities.
NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming executive director Sharon Breitweiser said in a statement that her organization did not believe the concept of fetal pain was rooted in established science and noted that the Wyoming Legislature had defeated similar measures in the past.
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“(T)he abortion-ban bill supported by Rep. Cheney further stigmatizes legitimate health care providers and sets a dangerous precedent regarding women’s health,” Breitweiser said.
Abortion in Wyoming
The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973 but opened the door to some state restrictions. Wyoming requires parental consent for any minor seeking an abortion and bans the use of public funds for abortions except in the case of life endangerment, rape or incest, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that favors abortion rights.
The Legislature passed two additional restrictions last year. One requires doctors to notify women seeking abortion that they may see an ultrasound of the fetus if they wish and another prohibits the use of aborted fetal tissue in scientific research.
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Despite the relative lack of legal restrictions on abortion, few clinics in Wyoming actually perform abortions and none offer the procedure close to 20 weeks. The only two clinics listed by advocacy group Women For Women Wyoming are in Jackson and do not perform abortions after 12 weeks.
Clinics in neighboring states offer abortions through 21 weeks.
Abortions after 20 weeks are rare. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of over 664,000 reported abortions in 2013, just 1.3 percent occurred at least 21 weeks into development.
While President Donald Trump was prepared to sign the bill, Democratic opposition means the measure will never reach the 60 votes in the Senate that it would need to pass. Republicans have a 52-48 Senate majority.
The Democratic-controlled Senate didn’t consider a similar bill the House approved in 2013. A House-passed measure in 2015 fell short in a GOP-run Senate.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.