House diversion: GOP lawmakers grandstand on abortion

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While Congress is embroiled in action over sweeping immigration reform and the now-sidetracked farm bill, House Republicans chose to spend valuable time elsewhere: restricting a woman's right to choose.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which passed in the House last week with just six Democrats voting for and six Republicans voting against it, would outlaw abortion 20 weeks after fertilization in most cases.

The text of the bill cites the scientifically disputed claim that a fetus is capable of feeling pain 20 weeks after fertilization. This might be relevant to the legal status of abortion were it not for the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. States can prohibit access to abortion only after the fetus reaches viability outside the womb. The landmark ruling made no reference to a fetus's ability to experience pain. In the vast majority of cases, fetal viability begins no earlier than 23 to 24 weeks of pregnancy, placing the bill in conflict with the Supreme Court's decades-old precedent and the Constitution.

The bill also states that exceptions in cases of rape can be made only if the crime is reported to authorities prior to the abortion -- never mind that most such cases go unreported.

The Republican-driven bill has little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the White House has promised a veto in the event that it does. This is good news for the cause of reproductive freedom, but it is all the more perplexing that lawmakers would waste time pushing for a misguided and divisive law.

Most likely conservative lawmakers are aiming to appeal to their socially conservative base and build momentum toward a legal challenge to abortion, in line with the states that have enacted trigger laws that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Reproductive health advocates must remain vigilant against legislators bent on undercutting women's right to a safe, legal abortion.

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