JUST BECAUSE you’re still in recovery mode from the holiday festivities doesn’t mean that Congress is deciding to slowly ease back into the swing of things. On the contrary: they’re ready and raring to go, and their first order of business? Restricting abortion. On Tuesday, when the 114th Congress convened for the first time, House Republicans introduced a bill onto the floor that would make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion after 20 weeks, called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. At the moment, abortions can be performed as far along as 24 weeks into pregnancy, since that is usually the point when the fetus is viable outside the womb, or able to survive without the mother. The right to have an abortion up until to the point of fetal viability is one protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, secured through the decision regarding Roe v. Wade, the ‘70s landmark case that brought the issue of abortion to the courts’ attention in the first place. How Republicans plan on circumventing the Constitution beats us, but that tiny little issue doesn’t seem to be stopping them in their attempt to place restrictions on abortion.
This latest piece of ammo in Republicans’ arsenal against women’s reproductive rights plays on the commonly-held belief (which has been categorically refuted by the scientific community, by the way) that a fetus can experience sensations of pain as early as the second trimester. The ability of a fetus to feel pain, however, is definitely not the same as the ability of a fetus to survive outside of its mother’s womb independently, no matter which way you slice it. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is just another way for Republican lawmakers to manipulate what can oftentimes be the fragile emotional state of a pregnant woman considering an abortion: make her believe that the baby growing inside of her can feel pain, and you might be able to make her think twice about going through with it. It’s a thinly-veiled appeal to emotion that obviously has dangerous ramifications, because Republicans are in a prime place to see this act passed.
This is not the first time that this bill has seen the light of day; it actually made its rounds in Congress in 2013, when it passed the House but never made it through the Senate, due to the intervention of Democrats, who enjoyed the majority in the Senate at that time. But now Democrats find themselves outnumbered in both the Senate AND the House of Representatives, so when the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act gets resurrected and brought before the House and the Senate in the next few weeks, there won’t be a shield of Democrats to prop between Republicans and women’s rights. Unless a significant number of Republican elected officials have a sudden change of heart when it comes to their and their constituents’ views on abortion, this bill stands a very good chance of passing. But that change of heart doesn’t seem very likely to happen, because no matter your political affiliations, no matter your views on which party has the answers to the myriad problems that plague this nation, you’d have to agree that it’s the Republican Party and the Republican Party alone that can’t seem to shake this fixation on women’s reproductive rights and ways to control them.
If you’re rolling your eyes right now and thinking “So what? It’s only a month,” use those eyeballs to look at the bigger picture. If this bill passes, not only will it put the legality of late-term abortions due to health complications in jeopardy, it might very well be the first of many restrictions on women’s reproductive rights that Republicans will try to pass during their next two years in Congress. Current legislation already makes it extremely difficult for women in some parts of the country to have an abortion — 43 states allow institutions to refuse to carry out the procedure, 26 require a waiting period between the initial appointment and the procedure, and 17 require state-mandated counseling where “scientific information” about the links between breast cancer and abortion, the ability of a fetus to feel pain, and the long-term mental health consequences of an abortion are given to the women. A few more laws and restrictions like these, passed during what could turn out to be a two-year free-for-all, could easily make abortion a virtual impossibility for millions of women.
If this isn’t a future you want to live in, don’t let it be. Contact your local representative to Congress and tell them that they need to fight for your right to control your own reproductive health. Tweet about it. Tell other people – family, friends, everyone you know – about it, too. They’re counting on us to keep quiet, to just let them go ahead and slowly chip away at civil rights without us batting an eye. We can’t afford to let them do that.