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House Judiciary Committee Passes D.C. Abortion Ban With No Exceptions for Fetal Anomalies or Health of the Mother

Jodi Jacobson

H.R. 3803, sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), denies a woman access to a medically necessary abortion and includes no exceptions for situations where continuing a pregnancy will place at risk a woman’s health or ability to have children in the future.

H.R. 3803, a bill to ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks gestation, is heading to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives after members of the GOP-dominated House Judiciary Committee yesterday voted in favor of it by 18 to 14. The bill would ban abortions in D.C. after 20 weeks, allowing an exception only to save a pregnant woman’s life.

The bill, sponsored by Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ), denies a woman access to a medically necessary abortion. It includes no exceptions for situations where continuing a pregnancy will place at risk a woman’s health or ability to have children in the future, for women who may have serious but non-life threatening medical conditions, are suffering from a severe mental illness, or who learn of a fatal or severe fetal anomaly. It would also subject a doctor to criminal penalties for performing a safe and legal medical procedure.

Congressman Franks has been dogged in his efforts to deny women of the District of Columbia the ability to safeguard their own health and rights.

The majority of committee members rejected all proposed amendments that would have added minimal exceptions to protect women’s health. The GOP majority, for example,  voted against an amendment by Congressman Mike Quigley (D-IL) to protect cancer patients in cases where chemotherapy or other treatments to save a woman’s life might interfere with her pregnancy.

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This amendment would have ensured that “women have access to the care they need during what is often the most difficult decision and most challenging time of their lives,” said Quigley.

“The extreme agenda pushed by anti-choice advocates completely ignores the health interests of cancer patients, whose ability to undergo lifesaving treatments, including chemotherapy, can be hindered by pregnancy.”

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, even with a broad health exception, the bill is “blatantly unconstitutional, as it aims to ban abortions before viability—an issue that has been well-settled under U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”

Yet, this bill goes further to provide absolutely no health exception for women in any circumstance other than an immediate threat to a pregnant woman’s life.

In a statement, Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights said “By rejecting even minimal health exceptions to this plainly unconstitutional abortion ban, anti-choice members of Congress have made it clear that their hostility toward women’s fundamental constitutional rights will not be mitigated by concerns for their health, lives, or futures.

“This proposed ban on constitutionally-protected abortion services for the women of D.C. would force doctors to refuse critical care to pregnant women, even if it would avert serious medical complications for their patients.”

“This bill is deeply troubling and dangerous. Women don’t turn to politicians for advice about mammograms, prenatal care, or cancer treatments. Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  “Ultimately, decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child must be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor and health care provider.”

The bill imposes criminal penalties on any physician found to violate the law, including up to $250,000 in fines and up to two years in prison. The physician could also be sued by certain relatives of the woman for money damages. Further, if a woman is able to obtain an abortion under the law’s extremely narrow circumstances, the bill allows nearly anyone in the woman’s life—such as her husband, sibling, parent, or even any health care provider who has ever treated her for any condition, such as her high school nurse—to file a civil action in court to prevent her abortion provider from serving any other women in the future.

In keeping with what is becoming GOP tradition, the House subcommittee that held a hearing on H.R. 3803 in May refused to hear testimony from women who would be affected or their representatives. The committee, for example, denied the District’s sole congressional representative, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the right to speak, rejecting a longstanding House tradition to allow members of Congress to testify on bills affecting their constituents.

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that states cannot ban abortion before viability. The Court has also found that any restrictions on abortion must include an exception for when an abortion is “necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health” of a woman. HR 3803 blatantly violates these critical and well-established requirements.

The bill is likely to go to the House floor for a vote in a few days.

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