September 22, 2015

Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

I rise today in strong opposition to H.R. 36, an unconstitutional attempt to impose a nationwide ban on abortions when the “post-fertilization age” of the fetus is determined to 20 weeks or greater with extremely limited exceptions.

 

More than 40 years ago, in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court made clear that women in this country have a constitutional right to abortion services and that no legislature may ban abortion prior to viability – which is exactly what H.R. 36 attempts to do.  Previous attempts to impose pre-viability bans on abortion have been repeatedly struck down by the courts and, last year, the Supreme Court refused to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision permanently blocking Arizona’s 20-week ban.  Nevertheless, anti-choice advocates continue their relentless efforts to undermine women’s reproductive rights in any and every way possible.  H.R. 36 is simply the latest attempt.

 

In addition to imposing an unconstitutional pre-viability ban on abortion, H.R. 36 threatens doctors with criminal penalties, including up to five years in prison, for attempting or performing an abortion in violation of the bill’s onerous restrictions, which is clearly intended to intimidate and discourage doctors from providing abortion care.  The bill also puts the health of pregnant women at risk by allowing an exception to the 20-week ban only in the very narrow circumstance where an abortion is necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.  Therefore, under H.R. 36, a pregnant woman who develops a serious medical condition or complication after 20 weeks would be barred from terminating her pregnancy – no matter how serious the risk to her health – unless the abortion is deemed necessary to prevent the woman’s death. 

 

In addition, H.R. 36 would not allow an exception in the heart-wrenching situation in which a severe fetal anomaly is discovered late in a woman’s pregnancy, despite the fact that these conditions are often only detectable around 20 weeks.

H.R. 36 also lacks a reasonable exception to the 20-week ban for victims of rape and incest.  Adult women who have been raped would be required to report the assault to law enforcement or undergo compulsory medical treatment or counseling at least 48 hours prior to receiving an abortion, meaning that the rape survivor must have at least two appointments with two different providers in order to access the care she needs. 

 

H.R. 36’s treatment of minors who have survived rape or incest is even more extreme.  For minors who have been the victim of rape or incest, H.R. 36 would require proof that the crime was reported to law enforcement or the appropriate government agency in order to qualify for an exception to the 20-week ban. 

 

These extremely narrow exceptions completely ignore the fact that the majority of sexual assault survivors do not, or are not able to, report their assaults to law enforcement for a variety of compelling reasons.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that only 35 percent of sexual assaults or rapes were reported to the police in 2010.  It is simply unconscionable to subject survivors of rape and incest to these burdensome and unnecessary requirements in order to receive the care they need.

 

H.R. 36 is not the first time anti-choice advocates have deliberately misrepresented Planned Parenthood.  I remember when a Senator stood on the floor of the United States Senate four years ago and claimed that abortions are “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does”.  And then his press spokesperson had to acknowledge that what he said “wasn’t intended as a factual statement”.  How much of what we are hearing and seeing now isn’t “intended as a factual statement”?  Senators certainly are entitled to their sincerely held positions on abortion and contraception but I think we ought to refrain from saying things we know aren’t true, especially on the floor of the United States Senate.

 

Let’s be clear about one thing – the effort to defund Planned Parenthood is not about federal funding for abortions.  Since 1977, it has been well established under the Hyde Amendment that federal funding cannot be used for abortions, except in very narrow circumstances where the life of the mother is endangered or in cases of rape or incest. 

    

Planned Parenthood health centers are an integral part of our safety-net health care system, providing high quality, affordable health care services to 2.7 million patients per year.  Every year, Planned Parenthood physicians and nurses provide family planning counseling and contraception to 2.1 million women, perform nearly 400,000 screenings for cervical cancer and nearly 500,000 breast exams, and provide nearly 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. 

 

Banning federal funding for Planned Parenthood would put millions of women at risk of having no place to go for basic, preventive health care.  For many women, family-planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood provide the only basic health care they receive.  In fact, six in ten women who access care through a family-planning health center consider it their main source of health care.  More than half of Planned Parenthood health centers are located in rural areas, health professional shortage areas, or medically underserved areas, putting women living in those areas at particular risk of losing access to health care services.  It isn’t just Planned Parenthood that is under attack; it’s also the one out of every five women in this country who has relied on Planned Parenthood for health care at some point in her lifetime.

    

Now, with less than two weeks left before a potential government shutdown, it appears that our Republican colleagues may once again attempt to defund Planned Parenthood as part of the continuing resolution necessary to fund the government, even though they know it will cause the legislation to fail.  A government shutdown is a completely avoidable crisis, and using this time to attack women’s health care and reproductive rights instead of negotiating a bipartisan plan to fund the government is both unacceptable and irresponsible.  The American people deserve better.  They deserve a budget that supports a strong national defense and growing economy – not the threat of another government shutdown. 

           

I urge my colleagues to join with me in opposing H.R. 36 and all efforts to undermine women’s reproductive rights and access to high quality, comprehensive health care services.