Statement of Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation (NAF):
Today, the House of Representatives will vote on a blatantly unconstitutional nationwide ban on abortion care after 20 weeks (H.R. 36), which is a threat to women’s lives and health, and at odds with medical standards of care.
This bill was introduced in January 2015 and pulled from floor consideration at the eleventh hour because its extreme policies caused controversy even among anti-choice politicians. Now, its sponsors have put forth a new version of the bill – purporting to “fix” the bill’s most dangerous clauses. However, the new version of H.R. 36 is even worse than the prior version, revealing that there is only one thing that extreme anti-choice politicians can agree upon: denying women accessible medical care.
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There are many reasons why a woman might need abortion care after 20 weeks, and she should be able to make that decision with those she trusts. This nationwide ban will affect women like:
Niecy* from Florida. Niecy was raped by a man she thought was her friend. When she realized she was pregnant due to the rape, she knew immediately that she wanted to terminate the pregnancy. As a full-time student, Niecy didn’t have any income, and she couldn’t tell her mom because she knew her mom would try to force her to keep the pregnancy due to her mom’s anti-choice religious beliefs. Niecy spent two months trying to raise enough money to pay for her procedure. She had nothing to pawn or sell and was so desperate she even asked her rapist for money to pay for the abortion, but he refused to help her. When Niecy was past 20-weeks, she was finally put in touch with the NAFHotline and other funds who were able to provide the financial help she needed. Niecy was then finally able to get the abortion care she desperately wanted and had been trying to obtain.
Gloria* from Washington. Gloria had just moved in with her parents in order to financially support them when she was faced with an unwanted pregnancy. She was fortunate to be working, but she was only making minimum wage, had no paid sick leave, and was still in her 90-day new job probationary period. Even after receiving her paycheck, she didn’t have enough funds to continue supporting her family, travel to the nearest abortion care provider about three hours away, and pay for the procedure itself. Eventually, Gloria decided to not pay some of her other bills in order to have enough funds to cover her travel and care, but then she ran into another barrier: her boss. Because the provider was more than 150 miles away, Gloria needed to take time off of work, but her employer wouldn’t allow her to do so. Her situation placed the job she desperately needed in jeopardy. Fortunately, her boss eventually relented and Gloria was finally able to obtain the abortion care she needed post 20 weeks, while keeping her job.
Amy* and her husband Chris* from South Carolina who were very excited about their pregnancy. Amy’s pregnancy was going as planned, with regular healthy check-ups. However, during the scheduled 20-week ultrasound, the couple received the devastating news that their fetus had a structural and lethal abnormality, Trisomy 18. They were advised to go in for further genetic testing. The results to confirm this diagnosis took an additional 10-14 days, so Amy was past 20 weeks gestation when she made the decision to obtain abortion care.
With a nationwide 20-week ban, women like Niecy, Gloria, and Amy would not be able to make the decisions that were right for themselves and their families.
This bill would deny abortion care to a woman even if her health care provider determined that abortion care was her best medical option. It would also force a woman to wait until severe medical conditions became life threatening before she could obtain the abortion care she needed. NAFmembers know firsthand how this bill could harm their patients:
“Doctors must make decisions in urgent, complex medical situations based on medical knowledge and experience, not under fear of criminal prosecution. One of my patients required an abortion at 21 weeks for a pregnancy complicated by twin-twin transfusion syndrome with ruptured membranes. Left untreated, my patient could have easily developed an infection and died, leaving her other children orphaned. Politicians should not force doctors into the untenable position of having to consider how close to death their patients must be before they can provide medically necessary care without fear of prosecution under a law like H.R. 36.,” said NAF’s Medical Director Matthew Reeves, MD, MPH, FACOG.
“Proponents of the bill claim that abortion care is never necessary to save a woman’s life. This claim is untrue. My service frequently receives referrals from Northwestern’s Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine and other high risk pregnancy services throughout the Chicago area. One of the more frequent reasons for referral is preterm rupture of membranes with chorioamnionitis, an intrauterine infection which can develop at any time during pregnancy. Since antibiotics will not sufficiently penetrate the endometrial cavity containing the baby, the treatment for this condition is to evacuate the uterus. If the infection occurs at term, we deliver the baby. If the condition occurs before 24 weeks, we must abort the pregnancy lest the patient becomes septic and dies. Over my years of practice, I have had many patients who would have died without access to abortion in this situation,” said NAF Member Cassing Hammond, MD, from Chicago, IL.
Furthermore, this bill would impose nationwide federal criminal penalties, including five years in jail, on medical professionals if they provide abortioncare in violation of this bill. These harsh penalties would have the effect of chilling the provision of abortion care in the United States, which is in fact one of the goals of the bills’ supporters.
The decision to seek abortion care is one that is best made by a woman in consultation with her health care provider and those she chooses to involve. Congress should not pass laws that disregard the Constitution or the real circumstances and complications women can face during pregnancy. Politicians should be protecting, not jeopardizing women’s lives and health.