Senate Dems ready to block GOP bill curbing late abortions
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republicans called on Democrats to show empathy for fetuses that they said could feel pain as they pushed the Senate toward a showdown Tuesday on GOP legislation banning most late-term abortions, a vote they seemed sure to lose.
Though the GOP controls the Senate, Democrats appeared certain to prevent them from getting the 60 votes needed to move ahead on the bill. It would be the second time since this summer's release of videos involving Planned Parenthood that Senate Democrats have scuttled a Republican effort to curb the organization and abortions.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., described the human features visible in fetal sonograms and said scientists say can feel pain 20 weeks into development -- an assertion that Democrats and many doctors contest.
"We in this chamber are never going to agree completely on the abortion question," McConnell said. "But we should at least be able to agree that if an unborn child has reached the point where he or she can feel pain, that child's life deserves protection."
Democrats have noted that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said fetal pain is unlikely until a pregnancy's third trimester, which is several weeks after 20 weeks.
They argued that Tuesday's vote -- coming two days before a first-ever papal address to Congress by Pope Francis, whose Catholic church shuns abortion -- was designed merely to satisfy the GOP's socially conservative voters.
Tuesday's showdown is "yet another show vote designed to honor the political wish list of extremists," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Republicans hoped that simply allowing a vote on the bill -- which Democrats would not do when they controlled the Senate -- would appeal to socially conservative voters and create campaign problems for Democratic senators from GOP-leaning states. By opposing the legislation and casting the battle as one over access to women's health care, Democrats saw an opportunity to appeal to female and younger voters.
Tuesday's vote came with Republicans also trying to halt the $450 million in federal funding that goes yearly to Planned Parenthood, about a third of its overall budget. Senate Democrats blocked a GOP bill last month that would have cut off Planned Parenthood's federal dollars, and McConnell has said the effort won't succeed unless President Barack Obama is replaced by a Republican president in next year's elections.
Lawmakers' focus on abortion intensified thanks to clandestinely recorded videos showing Planned Parenthood officials describing how they sometimes send fetal tissue to medical researchers. Some conservatives want the Planned Parenthood cutoff included in legislation financing government agencies, which would all but guarantee an Obama veto and a partial government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Abortion foes say the videos show Planned Parenthood has violated federal prohibitions against profiting from fetal tissue sales or changing some abortion procedures to maximize the harvesting of fetuses' organs. Planned Parenthood says it's broken no laws and says the videos were dishonestly manipulated to distort the recorded conversations.
Under the bill debated Tuesday, late abortions would be allowed for pregnant women whose lives are endangered or who are victims of rapes for which they've received counseling or medical treatment. Minors made pregnant by rape or incest would be exempted if they'd reported the assault to government authorities.
Doctors performing a permissible late-term abortion would have to try saving the fetus' life if possible, including having a neonatal specialist present and hospitalizing the newborn. Democrats say such requirements are designed to intimidate doctors away from performing abortions.
Forty-three states have barred abortions after specific stages of pregnancy, including 22 that do so after at least 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights research group.
Only about 1 percent of reported abortions involve pregnancies of 20 weeks or more, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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