Commentary Law and Policy

Don’t Be Fooled: The Goal of the 20-Week Ban Is to Stop Abortion for Good

Ellie Langford

The work of anti-choice ideologues this week made clear that they'll grab whatever gains they can to roll back our rights.

For people across the United States, picking up the newspaper on Tuesday morning was tough, to say the least.

I, like millions of others, grappled with headlines about one of the worst shootings in U.S. history, which claimed at least 59 lives and left hundreds more injured. Below those were headlines about the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, how Russians allegedly used Facebook to tinker with our precious democracy, yet another administration official likely spending taxpayer dollars to fly on private planes, the situation we as a country face regarding North Korea, and so much more.

Tuesday was a day for mourning, and a day for true leaders to announce action on some of these incredibly concerning issues.

But for those of you who thought GOP lawmakers would address these problems, think again. Instead, they chose to spend their precious time in Congress working to ban abortion and jeopardize their constituents’ lives.

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The bill Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed Tuesday would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Medical professionals, women, and families alike know that this type of restriction is one of the cruelest pieces of legislation around. A ban on abortion after 20 weeks will disproportionately hurt those facing some of the most complex situations imaginable. People seek this care later in pregnancy for a variety of reasons, including medical problems, difficulty accessing services, and the fear that comes with rape, incest, and abuse. Furthermore, abortions performed later in pregnancy are rare and represent only 1.5 percent of total abortion procedures in this country—a tiny portion. Taking away those options when they are most needed is the wrong thing to do.

Despite how damaging this legislation would be if signed into law—and despite how many other pressing issues desperately need to be addressed—the anti-choice GOP went ahead and scheduled the vote anyway. The reason why is simple: This legislation is meant to placate a fringe base that’s angry their party has barely gotten anything done. But it’s also a priority of aggressive anti-choice activists who view the bill as one step on the pathway to a total ban on abortion.

GOP leaders won’t say it in their carefully crafted press releases, but if you listen carefully, their true motives become clear. This is just their next step toward overturning our constitutionally protected right to abortion care.

Talking to Eternal Word Television Network, a fringe anti-choice news program, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) admitted last week that he was promoting the 20-week ban because it’s an easier sell “when you sit to make the argument.” But he also noted: “I would like to make it earlier.”

The other Republicans who stood with McCarthy to announce the this week’s vote have made it clear that they see this ban as a first step toward further restrictions.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-CO), who sponsored the bill, says on his official House website, “I have made it one of my priorities in public office to fight for the end of abortion on demand.” Regarding the 20-week ban, he told a conservative news site: “I hope this bill will demonstrate the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of what’s being done to them.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) has said the bill “would be a major step forward, at least, in protecting some,” implying that he’d like to take the ban further.

Before President Donald Trump’s election, Budget Committee Chair Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) partnered with anti-choice activist Charmaine Yoest to pray that “our great country will see a day when every person is welcomed in life and protected in law.”

And Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) has quietly advanced legislation that would allow prosecutors to charge women who received abortions with murder.

These members of Congress aren’t just carrying water for anti-choice leaders. They’re being spoon-fed campaign contributions from anti-choice groups like Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List and National Right to Life (NRTL) in exchange for being active participants in what an anti-choice leader admitted was a “military strategy” where “we don’t make frontal attacks. Never attack where the enemy is strongest …. What we do is very much under the radar screen.”

SBA List has helped finance the campaigns of every one of the members of Congress who stood with McCarthy when he announced the bill, and NRTL has supported most of them.

Make no mistake: These anti-choice groups are playing a long game, and have clearly been successful in getting certain extreme members of Congress to play along.

Ideologues from such groups are clear that 20-week bans, on both the state and federal level, are all about slowly chipping away at abortion rights. On a 2015 panel about the “baby steps” toward banning abortion, NRTL’s Darla St. Martin said that she didn’t see a 20-week ban as “the end-all, be-all,” but that it “builds momentum” for future anti-choice restrictions. Yoest—former president of Americans United for Life and a current Trump official in the Department of Health and Human Services—said, at the same conference in 2015, “One yard can make all the difference …. We’re marching down the field.”

And in an email to her supporters this week, SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser was even more blunt: “Passing this bill is an important step towards ending the scourge of abortion.”

To her, Tuesday’s vote was part of a bigger strategy to “get people on record” before 2018. As she told Rewire last week: “Our top priority is this bill …. We’ve been building momentum in two elections for it, and we’re going to be injecting it in the 2018 elections.”

These anti-choice ideologues made clear that they’ll grab whatever gains they can as they work long-term to roll back our rights.Their work this week tells you everything you need to know about their priorities.

The 20-week ban is not about policy. It is about politics, ideology, and putting women in our place.

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