Senate Rejects Unconstitutional Nationwide Abortion Ban at 20 Weeks

(PRESS RELEASE) — Today, the Senate rejected an unconstitutional federal ban on abortions at 20 weeks. Failing the 60 vote threshold, the 51-46 procedural vote blocked a ban that contained only the narrowest exceptions for survivors of rape or incest while prohibiting doctors from providing care at the risk of federal criminal penalties, including up to five years in prison.

The abortion ban, which passed the House in October 2017, violates longstanding Supreme Court precedent established in Roe v. Wade and reaffirmed in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The Senate blocked a similar unconstitutional abortion ban in 2015. A recent poll released by the Center for Reproductive Rights found nearly 7 out of 10 Americans (69 percent) support access to safe, legal abortion and that 61 percent of adults would support a federal law to safeguard abortion care and prevent restrictions  – like a 20 week ban – that push abortion access out of reach.

Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“As the clock ticks for Washington to approve a budget and find a solution for Dreamers, the Senate wasted time on an unconstitutional abortion ban.

“This vote was a distraction. While it was stopped in it tracks, it’s clear that anti-choice politicians and Senate leadership are prioritizing chipping away at constitutional freedoms over keeping the lights on and supporting policies the American people want.” 

The Senate bill would have put an unconstitutional ban on virtually all abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, regardless of whether the pregnancy would harm the woman’s health or the fetus has severe conditions that would make survival unlikely or impossible. The legislation threatened doctors with fines and a harsh penalty of up to five years in prison and would have imposed additional hurdles that interfere with the patient-provider relationship and further delay care.

Bans like S.2311 have been repeatedly challenged in court and do not pass constitutional muster. The Supreme Court in 2016 refused to review North Dakota’s ban on abortion as early as 6 weeks of pregnancy and Arkansas’ ban on abortion at 12 weeks of pregnancy had been struck down by lower courts. In 2014, the nation’s highest court refused to review Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy after it had been declared unconstitutional, and every federal court that has reached a decision on a pre-viability ban has blocked the rule from taking effect.

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