This week the House of Representatives passed bill H.R. 36, otherwise known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” The bill makes abortions illegal for mothers who are more than 20 weeks into their pregnancy. Trent Franks, a Republican representative from Arizona, sponsored the bill and made a statement on his Facebook page claiming that the Act protects “helpless” fetuses from pain during an abortion.

Medical Community Disagrees

The Medical Community swiftly refuted Franks' claims. Dr. Daniel Grossman, physician and researcher, specializing in reproductive health tweeted a rebuttal to Franks saying the consensus of the medical community is that fetuses are unable to feel pain before 26 weeks.

Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a pain medicine specialist and OB/GYN said H.R. 36 uses “junk science” in an interview with Lifehacker.

The American Medical Association corroborates statements made by Grossman and Gunter. In 2005, a study published in the AMA’s medical journal stated that fetuses were incapable of feeling pain before the third trimester, or after 26 weeks. More than 20 major medical institutions including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have openly opposed H.R. 36 because of unproven science and the harmful effect the bill has on women.

Other problems

Bad science isn’t the only facet of this bill that opponents have criticized. Enacting a ban on abortion after 20 weeks would unfairly target poor women and women of color.

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The Guttmacher Institute noted a study that discovered the vast majority of women who would have abortions after 20 weeks were women with little income. The reason being that these women may have difficulty raising funds for the procedure due to lack of insurance. Strict abortion laws in several states have limited access to abortions, forcing those seeking the procedure to suffer through extended wait periods or to travel long distances. These hurdles also disproportionately affect low-income women.

Another aspect of the bill that has come under scrutiny is the denial of abortions for fetuses showing major abnormalities or potentially lethal health problems. According to Planned Parenthood, it is common these problems aren’t revealed until after 20 weeks. And sometimes signs can point to problems that may eventually turn out to be insignificant, which forces families to have to make a terrible choice in order to make the 20-week cutoff.

H.R. 36 is deceiving on several fronts. The science goes against medical consensus, and because most abortions happen before week 20 in the first place, this bill won’t significantly reduce the procedure.

The prevailing belief amongst opponents is that H.R. 36 is nothing more than Republicans throwing a bone to their base at the expense of women’s health. The Guttmacher Institute notes that Pro-life lawmakers who truly care about reducing the number of abortions would fight to make contraceptive devices readily available to all women in need.