WASHINGTON (AP) — The abortion wars return to Congress in a big way with House legislation to ban almost all abortions after a fetus reaches the age of 20 weeks.
The legislation expected to pass the Republican-controlled House as early as Tuesday has no chance of becoming law in the near future: The Democratic-led Senate will ignore it and the White House has issued a veto threat. But the measure gives social conservatives a rare chance to promote their anti-abortion agenda and lays the groundwork for what could be a future challenge to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that confirmed a woman's right to late-term abortions.
The two sides in the abortion debate agreed at least on the importance of the measure.
National Right to Life Committee legislative director Douglas Johnson said it was the "most significant piece of pro-life legislation to come before the House since the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act" that was enacted in 2003. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill "clearly is an attack on women's constitutional right to choose and is one of the most far-reaching bans on abortion this committee has ever considered."
The legislation defies the 1973 ruling which made most abortions legal up to the point that a fetus is viable, generally considered to be at least 24 weeks.
Some 11 state legislatures have passed similar measures. Several have been challenged in court and a federal court last month struck down a slightly different Arizona law that banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Anti-abortion groups said the time frame in the House bill and other state laws, which ban abortion 20 weeks after conception, is equal to 22 weeks of pregnancy.