House Committee Advances Unconstitutional Abortion Ban for D.C., Rejects Minimal Exceptions to Protect Women's Health
07.18.12 - (PRESS RELEASE) Members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee voted 18-14 today to advance a bill that would ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks, allowing an exception only to save a pregnant woman’s life.
The bill, HR 3803, would prohibit physicians from providing such abortions to women who may have non-life threatening serious medical conditions, are suffering from a severe mental illness, and those who learn of a fatal or severe fetal anomaly.
Even with a broad health exception the bill is blatantly unconstitutional, as it aims to ban abortions before viability—an issue that has been well-settled under U.S. Supreme Court precedent. Yet, this bill goes further to provide absolutely no health exception for women in any circumstance other than an immediate threat to a pregnant woman’s life.
The majority of committee members today rejected all proposed amendments that would have added minimal exceptions to protect women's health, clearly exposing their underlying hostility to women's lives and rights.
Said Nancy Northup, president and CEO for the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“By rejecting even minimal health exceptions to this plainly unconstitutional abortion ban, anti-choice members of Congress have made it clear that their hostility toward women’s fundamental constitutional rights will not be mitigated by concerns for their health, lives, or futures.
“This proposed ban on constitutionally-protected abortion services for the women of D.C. would force doctors to refuse critical care to pregnant women, even if it would avert serious medical complications for their patients.
“We call on the full House to resoundingly reject this unconstitutional bill and this threat to the well-being of countless women.”
The House subcommittee that held a hearing on HR 3803 in May refused to hear testimony from the District’s sole congressional representative, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton—rejecting a longstanding House tradition to allow members of Congress to testify on bills affecting their constituents.
The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently held that states cannot ban abortion before viability. The Court has also found that any restrictions on abortion must include an exception for when an abortion is “necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health” of a woman. HR 3803 blatantly violates these critical and well-established requirements.
The bill imposes criminal penalties on any physician found to violate the law, including up to $250,000 in fines and up to two years in prison. The physician could also be sued by certain relatives of the woman for money damages. Further, if a woman is able to obtain an abortion under the law’s extremely narrow circumstances, the bill allows nearly anyone in the woman’s life—such as her husband, sibling, parent, or even any health care provider who has ever treated her for any condition, such as her high school nurse—to file a civil action in court to prevent her abortion provider from serving any other women in the future.
After today’s committee vote, the bill could soon be scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.