Not content to just do the work for the state that actually elected him, Arizona Republican Trent Franks has decided to tackle the apparently pressing issue of late-term abortions in Washington, DC. Franks, with backing from the National Right to Life Committee, has introduced the ”District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban abortions after 20 weeks for District women. Similar bills are already in place in Nebraska, Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, and Oklahoma.
As Franks is the chairman of the House subcommittee that will be handling his legislation — and the bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Lamar Smith and Darrell Issa, who both hold powerful committee positions as well — it is all but certain the the bill will be on the fast track to a vote on the House floor.
Defending his decision to interfere in the personal decisions of women he doesn’t represent, Franks says that his bill “would address the pain and suffering of children who have done nothing wrong … [i]t will emphasize the humanity of the child and the inhumanity of what is being done to them.” This is in keeping with the anti-choice rationale for all of these bills, but it ignores some very basic facts about late-term procedures and fetal development.
The idea that a fetus feels pain before birth has been widely disproved, most notably in a 2010 study by Britain’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Those findings indicate that a fetus does not feel pain before 24 weeks, and that even after that marker, it is difficult to conclusively say that a fetal has developed enough to feel pain. In addition, the study found that the chemical environment in the uterus induces “a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation.”
While there is a marked lack of reputable scientific evidence indicating that fetal pain exists, there is a wealth of information about why women choose late-term abortions. And contrary to what Franks claims about fetal pain and suffering, these procedures are most often performed because the fetus has abnormalities that are incompatible with life. Franks might like to imagine that women that seek late-term abortions just do so because they’re lazy or don’t care about the fetus, but the reality is that late-term abortions are far too expensive, and late-term providers are far too difficult to find, for women to ever make that decision cavalierly. This legislation will simply serve to punish women that have done nothing wrong, who wanted to make the right choice for themselves and their families – and, in the case of a severely compromised fetus, for their unborn child.
Washington, D.C. is a liberal city; as a six-year resident of the District, I have a hard time imagining that the City Council would ever even consider such a bill, much less vote it through. But since D.C. does not have voting rights, Congress is allowed to make laws for the District. As D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton observes, ”Representative Franks appears to have used his time at home figuring out new ways to undemocratically usurp the local authority of American citizens who did not elect him and who have no way to hold him accountable … We do not intend to succumb to the insatiable Republican obsession with interfering with the rights of women in our city.”
This new anti-choice trend of ignoring science and reality in order to curtail women’s rights is terrifying and dangerous. And the idea of a Congressman ignoring the issues of the constituents that elected him, and opting instead to attack women across the country with an unnecessary and grandstanding bill is infuriating. Put the two together, and it really seems that we have entered a strange new world of anti-choice dogma, where nothing matters at all except taking down reproductive rights by whatever means necessary.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.