DC Fetal Pain Bill Fails House but Pro-Life Leaders Remain Optimistic

A bill that would ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy failed to pass the House on Tuesday, but anti-abortion activists hailed the vote as a sign that their efforts ultimately would succeed.

The bill was based on the disputed claim that fetuses can feel pain at a gestational age of 20 weeks or older. The National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, made the legislation its top priority on Capitol Hill this year. Nine states have passed similar measures, and a federal judge upheld a similar law in Arizona this week.

The vote in favor of the bill was 220-154, with 17 Democrats joining 203 Republicans to support it. But because it was considered under special rules requiring a two-thirds vote for passage, the bill won’t proceed to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where it was unlikely to come up for a vote.

Opponents said the bill was an attempt to roll back a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Advocacy groups on both sides of the abortion debate were noting how each lawmaker voted, putting members under additional pressure.

“Today’s groundbreaking majority vote constitutes a giant step towards this bill ultimately becoming law,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. He added that the lawmakers who voted against it “will have to explain to their constituents why they voted to endorse a policy of legal abortion for any reason, until the moment of birth, in their nation’s capital.”

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