Next week, the House of Representatives will hold one of its first major votes of the year to launch a direct attack on the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. On January 22, House Republicans will mark the 42nd anniversary of the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision by scheduling a vote on legislation to ban abortions after 20 weeks. This bill, introduced by Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), may only be the opening salvo in an ongoing assault on women’s rights by the new session of Congress.
The ban would be a direct assault on the Roe v. Wade decision. Under Roe, abortion is legal until the point of viability, which varies by pregnancy but is generally around 24 weeks. Versions of this bill have been passed in recent years by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but these attacks on women’s rights have historically been stymied by Senate Democrats. With both chambers now under Republican control, Senate leadership has promised to take up the legislation as well.
The 20-week ban is a serious attack on women’s rights, and, in practice, will deny critical reproductive health care to many women facing desperate choices. The legislation is based on the debunked premise that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks — a claim that has been shown to be scientifically inaccurate. And while only a small percentage of abortions (about 1.5 percent) take place after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a large percentage of these procedures are performed in desperate and heartbreaking circumstances, including serious maternal and fetal health concerns. Every pregnancy is different, and politicians should not be in the business of standing between women and the health they need.
Next week’s vote is just the first fight in what seems likely to be an ongoing attack on women’s rights by the new Congress. Congressional Republicans have also proposed slashing the foreign assistance budget, including funding for reproductive health and family planning. They’ve made repeated efforts to eliminate funding for the United Nations Population Fund. And members of Congress have previously attempted to solidify the Global Gag Rule as federal law, which would prohibit foreign organizations that receive U.S. funding from using their own money to provide abortion information, referrals, or services (currently the Global Gag Rule is an executive policy imposed by Republican presidents and rescinded by Democratic ones).
Again, these attacks have previously been stalled or defeated by the Democrat-controlled Senate, but we can no longer look to the other side of the Capitol to hold off efforts to undermine women’s reproductive health.
Thursday’s vote is important. It signals that attacking women’s health and rights will be a top priority of this new Congress. But it’s far from the end of the fight. Last November’s election has set up a difficult road forward for reproductive health and women’s rights advocates. With the start of the FY 2016 appropriations on the horizon, the coming months will be an important advocacy moment for women’s rights champions.
Together with our partners in Washington, the International Women’s Health Coalition is working to navigate this new political climate, to look for opportunities for bipartisan collaboration, and to protect critical policies and funding from attacks.