Defeat of Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act A Top Priority, Say Pro-Abortion Leaders

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ)

WASHINGTON (February 22, 2012) — A new pro-life bill introduced recently in Congress at the instigation of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) poses a grave threat to the entire legal structure that maintains legal abortion on demand — making its defeat a top priority for the entire pro-abortion movement, a congressional pro-abortion leader said on February 21.

The statements were made by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate who represents the District of Columbia in the U.S. House of Representatives, who held a Capitol Hill press conference in collaboration with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the nation’s major abortion provider, solely to attack the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

The legislation was introduced in the House on January 23, 2012, by Congressman Trent Franks (R-Az.), as H.R. 3803, and currently has 130 cosponsors.  It was introduced in the Senate on February 13 by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), as S. 2103.

In this bill, Congress would declare that at least by 20 weeks after fertilization, an unborn child has the capacity to experience pain — and, on that basis, the bill would prohibit abortions within the District of Columbia (except when acute physical problems endanger the life of the mother) from that point on (from the beginning of the sixth month, in layperson’s terminology).

The Franks-Lee bill is based on an NRLC model bill that has already been enacted in five states – Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Idaho — with additional states expected to join the list during 2012.  None of the enacted laws have faced any serious legal challenge to date.

In a letter to her fellow House Democrats, released at the press conference, Norton said that the bill “has the potential to eviscerate the entire Roe framework,” referring to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand. 

Norton added, “Understanding the far-reaching scope of this bill, and the energy and resources that anti-choice [pro-life] advocates are going to put behind it, pro-choice groups have also indicated that stopping this bill will be a top legislative priority in 2012.”

Norton accused the bill’s sponsors, who she referred to as “Republican bullies,” of “discriminating” against women “based solely on their residency in the District of Columbia.”  In response, NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson explained, “Norton’s claim is inaccurate — the actual legislation simply makes it unlawful to perform an abortion past 20 weeks in the District, except in cases of life endangerment, regardless of the residency of the woman seeking the abortion.  It should be noted, however, that the available data indicates that the majority of abortions performed within the District are performed on residents of other jurisdictions.”

At the press conference, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray attacked the bill and said that its supporters would never try to pass the same bill on a national level, according to a report on washingtonpost.com.   Johnson commented, “Gray certainly has no way of knowing what pro-life members of Congress may propose in the future.  But the congressional sponsors are taking the right approach in placing their immediate focus on the District of Columbia.  An increasing number of states are moving to protect pain-capable unborn children, and introducing a nationwide bill this year would only undercut those state-based efforts.  In contrast, Congress alone has the constitutional authority to legislate with respect to the District – and with that constitutional authority comes the responsibility to act to end the torment of pain-capable unborn babies in the nation’s capital.”

Representatives of NARAL and the National Abortion Federation also participated in the press conference. Johnson charged that the bill opponents “are seeking to deflect attention away from the shocking fact that abortions currently are entirely unrestricted in the nation’s capital, at any point in pregnancy.  At least two abortion vendors are openly advertising late abortions.  One clinic provides abortion on request, by the brute-force dismemberment method (“D&E”), up to the beginning of the seventh month.  Another practitioner’s website contains references that suggest he may abort to approximately the start of the eighth month, by inserting a needle into the baby’s heart — and in current law, there is no requirement for him to stop even there.”

Johnson added, “Unborn children, developed far past the point at which they are capable of experiencing excruciating pain, and often far past the point that they could survive long-term outside the mother, are suffering torment and violent death practically within the shadow of the Capitol.  Congress — and the President, if he would — have the power to stop this.”      

Noting that Norton had charged that bill sponsors wanted to make “guinea pigs” of D.C.  residents, Johnson commented, “Anyone who tears a leg off a guinea pig in the District of Columbia can be sent to prison for five years.  It should not be lawful to do to a pain-capable unborn child what it is a crime to do to a guinea pig.”

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution provides that Congress shall “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District.  In her February 21 statement, Norton claimed that Congress “gave up” this power by enacting the Home Rule Act in 1973.  But in fact, the Home Rule Act explicitly states that Congress “reserves the right, at any time, to exercise its constitutional authority as legislature for the District, by enacting legislation for the District on any subject . . .”

“Congress did not give up — and indeed, cannot possibly give up — its constitutional responsibility for governance of the District, except by adoption of a constitutional amendment,” Johnson said.  “The nation’s capital belongs to all Americans — and the Congress bears the ultimate responsibility for defending innocent human life in this jurisdiction.  Any lawmaker who votes against this legislation is voting to allow the nation’s capital to also be the late abortion capital.”

For additional information on the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, click here.  To see an always-current list of co-sponsors of the House bill, click here.  To see a list of Senate co-sponsors, click here.

To see a medical illustration of the abortion method most commonly used on pain-capable unborn children, click here.

To see a current Action Alert explaining how you can help pass the bill, click here.