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U.S. House Panel to Examine Policy of Legal Abortion Until Birth in Nation’s Capital

May 17, 2012 | 2012 Press Releases

Bill would ban abortion of pain-capable unborn children in the federal District

UPDATE: For a summary of the May 17 hearing, with links to video clips and to the written statements submitted by all of the witnesses, click here.

WASHINGTON (May 17, 2012) — The U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution today will hold a hearing examining the policy of legal abortion until birth currently in effect in the nation’s capital, and an NRLC-backed bill that would protect unborn children in the federal District after they have reached 20 weeks fetal age, based on their capacity to experience pain.

The bill, the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 3803), is patterned on an NRLC-originated model bill that has already been enacted in six states. It currently has 194 House cosponsors.

“Many states are moving to protect pain-capable unborn children, with Georgia joining the list just this month,” said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “But with respect to the nation’s capital, which the Constitution makes an exclusively federal jurisdiction, it is Congress that has the immediate responsibility to act. Any lawmaker who votes against this bill is voting to ratify the current District policy, under which abortion is legal without limitation to the moment of birth.”

“The Constitution makes it crystal clear that the responsibility rests solely with Congress, and with the President,” Johnson said, noting that Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress shall “exercise exclusive jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever, over such District . . .”

Johnson added, “This legislation is NRLC’s top congressional priority for 2012. NRLC does not regard its House scorecard for the 112th Congress as complete until the House has voted on this bill — but lawmakers can vote early by cosponsoring the bill, and 194 have already done so. A vote against H.R. 3803 will be scored by NRLC as a vote to ratify a policy of unlimited legal abortion until the moment of birth in the nation’s capital.”

H.R. 3803 was introduced by Congressman Trent Franks (R-Az.), who is also the chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution. In the bill, Congress adopts “findings” (declarations of fact) that by 20 weeks after fertilization (if not earlier), the unborn child has the capacity to experience great pain. The bill then prohibits abortion after that point, except when an acute physical condition endangers the life of the mother. The abortion method most often used at this stage, the “D&E,” is depicted in a medical illustration posted here.

The Judiciary Committee will offer a live internet feed of the hearing, scheduled for 4 PM EDT, at

Testifying at today’s hearing will be Dr. Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician-gynecologist who at one time performed many D&E abortions but who now opposes abortion; Dr. Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist from Northwestern University who will testify regarding the pain perception capacities of babies who are born very prematurely, and of unborn children; and Dr. Byron Calhoun, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at West Virginia University-Charleston specializing in maternal and fetal medicine, who will testify regarding humane medical approaches to cases in which unborn children are diagnosed with genetic disorders or other serious medical conditions. Also testifying will be an opponent of the bill, Christy Zink of Washington, D.C., who had an abortion after learning that her unborn son had a malformed brain.

On May 15, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), delegate to the House for the District of Columbia, issued a press release complaining that she was not allowed to testify at today’s hearing. NRLC’s Johnson commented: “The Democrats on the committee could have invited anybody they wanted to fill their witness slot. The Democrats apparently decided Norton was not their strongest witness, so they invited somebody else, and then issued complaints that Norton was excluded — just another phony controversy, manufactured for Rachel Maddow and the blogosphere.”

The NRLC website contains much documentation on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and on the scientific evidence that unborn children, by 20 weeks if not before, have the capacity to experience great pain, here.

Identical legislation (S. 2103) has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah).

The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is the nation’s largest pro-life organization, representing state right-to-life organizations nationwide.

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