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‘Designed to Manufacture Outrage’: Senate Judiciary Holds Hearing on 20-Week Abortion Ban

Ally Boguhn

Restrictions like Sen. Lindsay Graham's 20-week ban "are part of a broader agenda to take away women’s health and rights," said Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday held a hearing on an anti-choice 20-week abortion ban featuring a witness known for pushing falsehoods about abortion and reproductive health care.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a strident abortion rights opponent, presided over the misleadingly titled “Abortion Until Birth: The Need to Pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” Graham in January introduced the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” in the Senate to ban abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.

Among the witnesses who testified was Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the anti-choice American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Harrison was featured in Rewire.News’ “False Witnesses” project, which highlighted ideologically motivated scientists and doctors who have promoted misinformation about abortion and reproductive health care in state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the courts.

Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of the anti-choice group Americans United for Life (AUL), which creates model legislation to restrict reproductive rights, also appeared at Tuesday’s hearing to voice support for the ban.

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Both Foster and Harrison in their testimony falsely suggested legislation such as Graham’s was appropriate because a fetus can feel pain 20 weeks into pregnancy. Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say fetuses cannot feel pain until after viability, which occurs around 24 weeks’ gestation.

Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan (D-Atlanta) spoke at the hearing about her experiences with a 20-week ban passed in the state. “Since its passage in 2012, Georgia’s 20-week ban has had a profound and deadly [effect] for the women of the state. Whether that is the intent or not, it is certainly the outcome. And I have seen it in my rural, South Georgia hometown just as I have seen it in the Atlanta metro area,” Jordan said, according to her prepared remarks.

“Currently, it is exceedingly difficult to get an abortion in Georgia, but it is just as difficult to give birth in Georgia. No doubt in part to the 20-week-ban, there are no winning options for many of the women of this state,” she said, noting that “since the passage of Georgia’s 20-week-ban in 2012, we have seen the maternal mortality rate double in Georgia.”

“I do not believe this is a coincidence,” Jordan said.

Dr. Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement Tuesday that the hearing was meant to distract from the realities of the anti-choice policies pushed in legislatures across the United States. “Today’s hearing is designed to manufacture outrage over something that isn’t happening and distract from what actually is happening—anti-women’s health politicians are pushing extreme bans that will ban all safe, legal abortions,” Wen said. “These attacks are part of a broader agenda to take away women’s health and rights.”

Katherine Ragsdale, interim president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation, denounced the use of “lies instead of evidence-based science to justify an unconstitutional abortion ban.”

“Health care professionals from across the world have plainly stated that these claims made by anti-choice politicians are not based on science, reality, or current medical best practices,” Ragsdale said in a statement. She noted that major medical organizations “have decried anti-abortion bans that deny women the ability to have open, unbiased, nonjudgmental conversations with their health care providers to determine the right medical decisions for them during their pregnancies.”

“Yet anti-choice politicians and their extremist supporters eschew this medical expertise and choose to demonize women and their health care providers instead, creating an echo chamber with their fanatic cohorts at the state level,” Ragsdale said.

In the first three months of 2019, 28 states introduced abortion bans, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Those measures included so-called trigger bans to immediately ban abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned, bans on some methods of abortion, and bans based on gestational age.

President Donald Trump during his State of the Union address in February called on Congress to pass legislation “to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.” The legislation is unlikely to make it through Congress, as Democrats hold a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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