Lawmakers in the Republican-led House of Representatives have backed a bill to outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks of fetal development. President Donald Trump has promised to sign the bill should it pass the Senate.
The US House of Representatives voted to ban nearly all late-term abortions on Tuesday, a major priority for the Republican party and one that US President Donald Trump is eager to sign.
Lawmakers approved the measure almost completely along party-lines, 237-189, with all but three Democrats opposing the bill and all but two Republicans supporting it.
The bill, called the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," would outlaw nearly all late-term abortions after 20 weeks of fetal development. It would also allow for criminal penalties for doctors or others who perform the procedure, including five years in prison.
Exceptions would be made in cases of rape, incest or where the life of the mother is at risk.
Although the White House has voiced support of the bill, its future in the upper chamber of the Senate is uncertain. The bill is not seen as a priority.
Controversy over fetal 'pain'
Republican lawmakers pushed for the 20 week cut-off by citing research from pro-life organizations that say fetuses are able to feel pain after that point in development.
"We cannot claim ignorance. Their pain is no longer invisible to us," House Speaker Paul Ryan told the chamber before the vote. "We cannot as a society — with good and upright conscience — ignore it."
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Democrats reject their research, with Representative Gwen Moore, a Democrat from Wisconsin, saying it was an attack on women's rights to access legal abortions.
"I'm a survivor of rape. That is painful," Moore said. "This bill is a cruel and ruthless attempt to undermine women and attack our right to govern our bodies."
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says fetuses aren't developed enough to feel pain until 24 weeks.
In an interview, the ACOG's chief executive officer, Hal Lawrence, said "the overwhelming amount of evidence" shows fetuses younger than 24 weeks have reflex activity but lack the neurological development to sense pain.
A US Supreme Court decision in 1973 affirmed the right to abortion nationwide, noting that the procedure could be conducted before the fetus reaches "viability," or the point it could survive outside the womb.
The court did not set a specific number of weeks, but the consensus at the time was between 24 and 28 weeks.
rs/rc (AP, AFP)