The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, acting four months after the Republican leadership yanked an earlier version over objections from Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and other Republicans.
It was approved on a nearly party line vote 242-184.
Ellmers voted for the ban on Wednesday, saying that the new version took care of her concerns. It dropped a requirement in the previous version that rape victims could only get an exception to the ban if they had reported the crime to police.
“As difficult as this process has been, we have arrived at a better bill.” Ellmers said in a statement after the vote. “Today’s bill alleviates my initial concern as it demonstrates compassion towards women who are in the midst of a crisis while also creating additional protections for the unborn.”
The bill has little chance of becoming law.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday he’d introduce a similar bill soon in the Senate, as he did in 2013, but the outlook there is unclear. And President Barack Obama almost certainly would veto it if it reached his desk. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday said the Obama administration strongly opposes the bill. Earnest said it would add “harsh burdens on survivors of sexual assault, rape and incest.”
The legislation, H.R. 36, would ban abortions at 20 weeks or later except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest of a minor.
Rape victims must have received counseling or medical treatment first. Young victims of incest would have to have had the crime reported to law-enforcement authorities or to a government office in charge of child abuse and neglect cases.
The bill also requires that when abortion were allowed after 20 weeks, a physician would be required to perform the procedure in a way that would give the fetus the best chance to survive, and a second physician trained in neonatal resuscitation would have to be present. It also requires a woman to sign a consent form agreeing to these arrangements.
Ellmers said that the new version of the bill requires women to “seek medical guidance” or speak to a counselor, and that “this may ultimately lead her down a different path – one where she embraces her unborn child and ultimately chooses life.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and other Republicans who spoke in favor of the bill on the House floor Wednesday noted that opinion surveys in recent years show that a majority of Americans support a 20-week abortion ban.
“These unborn children can feel pain,” Foxx said.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., called that a “widely disputed scientific claim.” She also argued that the bill was “so odious” in January that Republican female lawmakers objected.
Ellmers on Jan. 20 formally withdrew her co-sponsorship of the bill after raising her objections with House leaders. She was quoted as saying that she didn’t think the legislation would play well with younger voters and that she objected to a requirement that women must report rapes to police in order to get an exception to the ban.
Although she’s an abortion opponent, Ellmers faced strong criticism at the time from the N.C. Values Coalition and North Carolina Right to Life. The groups didn’t respond to requests for comment about Wednesday’s vote.
The bill had been scheduled to be voted on during the annual march on Washington on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that ended state abortion bans.
The last-minute decision not to hold a vote on the bill was seen as an embarrassment for the Republican leadership, especially when thousands of abortion opponents were in Washington for their annual march.
Several Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, including Speaker John Boehner, pointed out that this week also was an anniversary – of the sentencing on May 15, 2013, of Kermitt Gosnell to life in prison without parole for the murder of a baby born alive after a botched abortion and conspiring to kill two others.