The Senate rejected an effort to prohibit late-term abortions Jan. 29, assuring the United States would maintain for now one of the world’s most radical policies on the procedure.
Senators voted 51-46 to bring the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, S. 2311, to the floor but fell short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, as it is known, and proceed to a roll call on passage. The bill would ban abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation.
In October, the House of Representatives approved its version of the legislation, and the White House issued a statement saying it “strongly supports” the proposal.
The demise of the bill – which the Senate also rejected in 2015 after House passage – means the United States remains among the seven countries in the world that permit elective abortions after 20 weeks. The other six from among 198 countries are Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute.
Pro-life advocates again grieved the Senate’s refusal to protect unborn children in the last half of pregnancy but vowed to continue the fight for the sanctity of human life.
“The fact that a vote over whether or not it should be legal to snuff out the lives of 20-week-old babies could not even pass a procedural hurdle in the United States Senate should be shocking to the conscience,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
“What some members of Congress who would vote against such a measure have been wrong to assume is that Americans will, given enough time, simply get over their convictions about abortion,” Moore told Baptist Press (BP) in a written statement. “That is not going to happen. Not only that, but the church of Jesus Christ always has stood and always will stand for life at every stage. The reborn will stand for the unborn, and we’re not going anywhere.”
Catherine Glenn Foster, president of Americans United for Life, said in a tweet, “Tonight may not be our night but we look forward to the day America once again sets the tone worldwide when it comes to defending women and unborn children from the horrors of later-term abortion.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the bill’s sponsor and a Southern Baptist, said after his measure failed, “[W]hile today was a small setback, I have no doubt that we will eventually be victorious.
“The more we discuss this matter, the more support we get from the American people.”
A Marist Poll survey conducted in December showed 63 percent of Americans, including 56 percent of both Democrats and pro-choice citizens, support the late-term ban. That is an increase from 59 percent overall and 49 percent for Democrats in last January’s poll.
Abortion-right supporters welcomed the bill’s failure.
Calling it a waste of “time and taxpayer money,” NARAL Pro-choice America President Ilyse Hogue said the Republicans’ effort “reveals their true priorities: to punish women, ban abortion and try to score an ideological win to appeal to their fringe base.”
Three Democrats – Sens. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia – joined nearly all of the Republicans in voting to bring the ban to the floor. Two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined most of the Democrats in opposition.
More than 15,000 abortions are performed each year in the United States after 20 weeks, the Centers for Disease Control estimated in a 2008 study. At least 275 clinics perform abortions past 20 weeks, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
Abortion doctors often use a technique known as dismemberment or “dilation and extraction” abortion from about 14 weeks of pregnancy into the third trimester, according to NRLC. In the method, a doctor uses instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child’s body.
While efforts at the federal level have been unsuccessful, 16 states have enacted pain-capable abortion bans, according to NRLC. They are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated Idaho’s law in 2015.
Ohio also has enacted, along with Tennessee, an abortion ban for any unborn baby who is determined to be able to survive outside the womb with or without medical assistance. The measure requires a viability test beginning at the 20th week of pregnancy and establishes a state presumption of viability at 24 weeks since the mother’s last menstrual period.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)