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Senate fails to pass 20-week abortion ban aimed at undermining vulnerable Democratic incumbents

In a vote early this evening, Senate Republicans failed to pass “The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a bill that aimed to make abortion 20 weeks post-fertilization illegal in most cases. With a vote of 51 to 46, mostly along party lines, the bill did not reach the 60-vote threshold required to advance through the upper chamber.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky pushed for the vote despite knowing the bill would likely fail, according to several news outlets, with the aim of undermining vulnerable Democrats up for re-election in November. “This afternoon, every one of us will go on record on the issue,” McConnell said today on the Senate floor. “I hope that our Democratic colleagues will not obstruct the Senate from taking up this bill.”

Senate Republicans failed to pass a bill that would have made abortion illegal at 20 weeks. Their rationale, refuted by doctors, is that fetuses can feel pain at that point (Steve Rhodes)

According to USA Today, “More than half of Democrats, and Independents, are up for re-election this year; 10 of them are in states President Trump won and many of those have some version of the 20-week ban already passed at the state level.”   

The vote comes on the heels of the March for Life rally earlier this month, which Trump addressed by live-video feed, urging the Senate to pass the bill and send it to his desk for signing. The House of Representatives passed the measure last year in a 237-189 vote. If signed into law, the bill would allow up to five years in prison for an individual who performs an abortion past 20 weeks. It would not criminalize women who received such abortions.  

Queried by journalists, some pro-choice organizations and political analysts dismissed the efficacy of McConnell’s legislative strategy.  

“I think they fail to recognize the context of the moment and what they’re contending with,” Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told The New York Times. “We are seeing a rising up of women, unprecedented in my lifetime, and women who recognize that the role of abortion rights is so crucially important for women’s health.”  

“This tactic has been proven ineffective,” a Democratic aide involved in Senate races said in a comment to The Hill. “It’s a line of messaging that voters are not receptive towards.”  

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, only 21 percent of Americans would only vote for a candidate that shared their views on abortion, while 46 percent reported that abortion was “one of many important factors” in choosing a candidate, and 27 percent stated it was “not a major issue.”  

Also, “some GOP lawmakers claim that at 20 weeks post-fertilization, a fetus can feel pain,” writes The Cut, despite the fact that “the majority of scientific literature says otherwise.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has stated that pain is an “emotional and psychological response” that fetuses do not develop until the third trimester.  

Nearly 90 percent of abortions in the United States take place during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and only about 1 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks. Seventeen states already ban abortion at about 20 weeks post-fertilization.

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