U.S. Senate Blocks Vote on Unconstitutional Federal Abortion Ban

Measure banning abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy would create mandatory delay for rape survivors, makes no exceptions for women’s health

(PRESS RELEASE) Pro-choice Senators voted to block advancement of a bill today that would ban abortion in the United States at 20 weeks—a cruel and unconstitutional measure with extremely narrow exceptions for women in certain circumstances. 

The measure would create a 48-hour mandatory delay for rape survivors, requiring adult patients to obtain medical care or counseling from a state-licensed counselor or victims’ rights advocate for their assault at least two days prior to receiving abortion services. For minors who have become pregnant after rape or incest, they would be required to report the crime to law enforcement or child protective services. 

While the bill contains an extremely narrow exception for women facing life-threatening conditions, it fails to make an exception for threats to the health of the woman—thereby disregarding decades of previous U.S Supreme Court rulings. 

HR 36 was passed in the House in May 2015 by a vote of 242-184 and is identical to the Senate’s measure (S. 1553) introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) earlier this summer. 

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

“Thanks to the courageous efforts of our pro-choice champions in the Senate, this latest attempt to control women’s health care and criminalize their doctors has fallen flat.

“This measure shows how low politicians will go to shame women for their decisions and put their health at risk, forcing rape survivors to scale additional hurdles and unnecessarily delay constitutionally protected health care.  Women know what is best for their personal circumstances and don’t need cruelty disguised as compassion when they need to end a pregnancy.

“We call on the politicians responsible for today’s attack to abandon this crusade against safe and legal abortion and shift their attention to truly protecting women’s health and rights.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held—first in Roe v. Wade and again most recently in Planned Parenthood v. Casey—that women have a constitutional right to decide whether to end or continue a pregnancy and states cannot ban abortion prior to viability.   Last year, the Supreme Court refused to review a decision permanently blocking Arizona’s ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, and courts in Idaho and Georgia have also recently blocked similar pre-viability bans.  North Dakota has tried to ban abortion as early as six weeks in pregnancy while Arkansas attempted to ban abortion at 12 weeks; both of those measures have been permanently blocked by a federal appeals court.

Bans on abortion at 20 weeks take critical medical decisions out of the hands of women and their trusted health care providers at a time when those services may be the best medical option for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, measures like this ban on abortion prohibit services at a point at which a woman is just receiving the results of critical tests to determine the health of her pregnancy—and potentially the presence of life-threatening complications and severe fetal anomalies

Today’s vote comes less than a week after the U.S. House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood and a little over a month since a similar defunding measure was blocked in the Senate--despite recent polls showing the majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood and do not want Congress to shut down the federal government over defunding an organization that one in five American women will rely on for health care at some point in her lifetime.   

These harmful measures are part of a larger, coordinated strategy to restrict safe and legal abortion as an option for women throughout pregnancy.  While politicians are attempting to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy at the national level, state politicians have advanced measures to make it practically impossible to get safe, legal abortion care earlier in pregnancy.  For example, clinic shutdown laws have swept the country in recent years, threatening to block abortion access for countless women.  Clinic shutdown laws targeting Texas health care providers and the last abortion clinic in Mississippi are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, while health care providers in Louisiana await a federal court ruling on a state law that could shutter all but one clinic in the state. Courts have blocked similar sham laws in OklahomaTennessee, and Alabama   Women are also facing increasing delays on accessing care in the states, with politicians in Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee all advancing measures this legislative session which force women to forgo safe and legal abortion care for anywhere from one to three days.  Further, courts have recently blocked attempts in Arizona and Oklahoma to restrict women’s access to medication abortion--a safe method of ending pregnancy in its earliest stages.   

Donate Now