On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that H.R. 36, otherwise known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” is scheduled for a House vote on October 3.
The bill, sponsored by Arizona Republican Trent Franks, would ban abortion at 20 weeks, making performing the procedure post-20 weeks a criminal act, punishable by either fine or up to five years in prison. The premise of H.R. 36 is in its name, arguing that, “After 20 weeks, the unborn 8 child reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as 9 painful if applied to an adult human, for example, 10 by recoiling.” Those assertions are questionable; the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees with the findings of a British study that “the fetus does not even have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least 24 weeks of gestation.” In a 2012 letter, the ACOG also warned legislators of misrepresenting research in order to further legislation, but their appeal to “evidence-based medicine” hasn’t slowed the anti-abortion restrictions and their shaky claims to the science of pain.
H.R. 36 has all of the requisite language of a fetal pain bill, 19 of which have already been passed in states. H.R. 36 has exemptions “to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, physical illness, or physical injury” but excludes “psychological or emotional conditions.” It also includes exemptions for rape providing that the victim has received counseling or medical treatment, as well as exemptions for “rape against a minor or incest against a minor,” provided again that the crime has been reported. In addition to the standard stuff of 20-week bans, the bill requires that physicians or healthcare providers who perform abortions within the parameters of the exemptions, have another physician trained in “neonatal resuscitation” present.
The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” has been hanging around the House for a while (Franks loves this bill a lot). The bill passed in the House in 2015 when then-House Speaker John Boehner called it the most “the most pro-life legislation to ever come before this body.” It was blocked by Senate Democrats but the appeal of the bill to anti-abortion Republicans doesn’t seem to have waned. H.R. 36 is a high priority for anti-choice groups and the bill is based on model legislation from National Right to Life.
During a Tuesday press conference, McCarthy praised the legislation. “Not only will passing this legislation keep a promise we made, but all the work is for the same goal: ending suffering and helping people live,” he said as he announced the scheduled date of the vote.
It’s unlikely that H.R. 36 will pass the Senate where it will need 60 votes to move to the President’s desk. Donald Trump, however, has said that he would sign the bill.