Senate Preparing to Vote on Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban

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Senate Preparing to Vote on Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Ban

Emily Crockett

A vote on a 20-week abortion ban could come as soon as this month, but it's not clear whether that will appease right-wing GOP lawmakers determined to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Senate could vote this month on a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation, Politico reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reportedly plans to file cloture on “pro-life” legislation at the end of next week, which could include other bills in addition to the 20-week ban.

Twenty-week abortion bans are considered unconstitutional because they violate Roe v. Wade’s protection of abortion rights up until the point of fetal viability, which is well after 20 weeks. Passing them at the state and federal level has been a primary strategy of the anti-choice movement, which hopes to use the constitutional conflict as a means of overturning Roe.

McConnell’s move could set up a vote on the ban somewhere between the final debate on the Iran deal and the end of the month, when the Senate will have to pass a spending bill to keep the government funded.

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It’s an open question whether the Republican Party’s crusade to defund Planned Parenthood will get in the way of passing that spending bill. The 42-member House Freedom Caucus this week officially declared that they will vote against any spending bill that contains funding for Planned Parenthood. If Congress passed a spending bill defunding Planned Parenthood and President Obama vetoed it, or if Congress couldn’t pass a spending bill that didn’t defund Planned Parenthood, Republicans could once again shut down the federal government.

GOP leadership has little appetite for a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood, which has been under attack by conservative lawmakers since an anti-choice front group released deceptively edited videos claiming that Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue research program broke the law.

“It’s nearly unanimous, I think, the view that a shutdown doesn’t defund Planned Parenthood and doesn’t help us maintain our majorities so we can have some influence on who the next members of the United States Supreme Court are, and elect a Republican president,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) said.

But the Freedom Caucus’ opposition could make it complicated for leadership to get the votes they need to pass a clean funding bill. Twenty-eight Republican men (only some of whom are also Freedom Caucus members) have signed a letter pledging to do everything in their power, including shutting down the government, to cut off Planned Parenthood funding.

A vote on the 20-week abortion ban may be the GOP leadership’s way of trying to placate their right-wing members and base to discourage a shutdown fight over Planned Parenthood. Some anti-choice groups have put direct pressure on senators to support the bill.

It’s not clear whether anti-choice groups and lawmakers would be satisfied without a Planned Parenthood fight. One lawmaker who has pledged to block Planned Parenthood funding, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), even tried to connect the 20-week abortion ban to Planned Parenthood in a hearing this week.

Neither a 20-week abortion ban nor a bill defunding Planned Parenthood are likely to overcome a filibuster in the Senate, and both would undoubtedly be vetoed by President Obama.