WASHINGTON - Rep. Trent Franks' bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks passed its first hurdle Tuesday, clearing a House subcommittee on a 6-4 straight party-line vote in the face of strong Democratic opposition.
Opponents said the bill flies in the face of court rulings, as recently as last month, that rejected similar bans and protected abortion rights.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., one of the four subcommittee Democrats who voted against the bill, called it "clearly unconstitutional" and "misguided."
"Anyone who votes for this bill today is defying the courts," Nadler said.
But supporters of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act said there is scientific evidence that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks of gestation. They also pointed to Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor convicted this year of murder in the deaths of fetuses.
"The case of Kermit Gosnell shocked the sensibilities of millions of Americans," said Franks, a Glendale Republican. "However, the crushing fact is that abortions just like the one caused by Kermit Gosnell have been happening hundreds of times every single day for decades in America."
The bill must still be approved by the full House Judiciary Committee and the full House, where a nearly identical bill of Franks' failed last fall.
That bill would have applied only to the District of Columbia as did the current bill - until Franks amended it to apply nationwide. He cited the Gosnell case as one of the reasons to expand the bill nationally.
Nadler said Tuesday that while the Gosnell case was clearly murder, it does not make the case that all late-term abortions are murder.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., said the bill not only goes against the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, recognizing a woman's right to an abortion, but is also at odds with a federal appeals court ruling last month that struck down an Arizona law similar to Franks' bill.
Conyers said it is inappropriate for an all-male committee to decide on a ban, and called it "shocking" that the bill does not make an exception for victims of rape or incest or for women endangered by a pregnancy.
Opponents argued that the bill's claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks or earlier is extreme and at odds with the majority of scientists and medical professionals. Nadler accused the Republicans of waging a "war on women" through such bills.
Franks said people who make that accusation "overlook the fact that roughly half of these babies that are so tortuously killed each day are just little tiny women."
But Nadler said that those who think a woman "is too stupid and immature to make the choice for herself" are the ones disrespecting women.