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New Wave of Fetal-Pain Abortion Bans Faces Court Scrutiny

(UPDATED) New poll shows majority of Americans favor a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Update (July 31): A new Washington Post-ABC polls reveals much wider support for 20-week abortion bans than previously reported. According to the results, 55 percent of respondents said they would prefer to limit abortions after 20 weeks, rather than the currently established 24-week mark. Only 27 percent of respondents said abortions should be legal until 24 weeks into pregnancy.

"Another 10 percent surveyed in the poll volunteered they would prefer to outlaw abortion in the United States altogether or limit it earlier than 20 weeks after fertilization," the Post reports.

The results contrast a previously reported National Journal poll, which found that only a narrow plurality (48 percent) supported 20-week abortion bans.


Update (July 22): The Associated Press reports that a federal district court has struck down North Dakota's new abortion law, which would have banned the procedure "as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before some women know they are pregnant."

North Dakota's only abortion clinic filed the lawsuit after the state legislature passed a series of laws this spring that would have made North Dakota "the most restrictive state in the nation in which to get an abortion," according to the AP.


Update (July 17): In a special session of the legislature late last week, Texas lawmakers voted to approve a bill to restrict access to abortions in the state. Their vote came just three weeks after democratic Senator Wendy Davis's dramatic filibuster to block the bill.

But even though Davis skyrocketed to household-name status as a result of her attempt, a new United Technologies-National Journal poll indicates that Americans actually support measures that prohibit abortions after 20 weeks. According to National Journal, "Americans favor such a bill by 48 percent to 44 percent."


Update (July 3): The Weekly Standard broke the news yesterday evening that Florida senator Marco Rubio has agreed to "sponsor of a Senate bill to ban abortion after an unborn child is 20 weeks old."

The bill would be the Senate equivalent of the House bill approved last month. However, congressional news source The Hill states that the bill "is unlikely to proceed in the Democratic-controlled Senate."


Update (June 18):Politico reports that the House of Representatives has voted along party lines to pass a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

According to Politico, "The vote is largely symbolic: The bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate. And the White House has already threatened to veto the 'fetal pain' legislation, which is based on the controversial assertion that a fetus can feel pain at that stage of development."

The Washington Post reports that seven Democratic lawmakers voted with Republicans to pass the bill, but an equal seven Republicans voted against it.


Update (June 11): The Associated Press reports that the proposed national ban has passed its committee and will soon receive a vote by the full House.


Update (June 5): Congressional news source The Hill reports that the House Subcommittee on the Constitution has advanced a national bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The modified bill would implement a nationwide ban if approved.


As abortion laws in states such as North Dakota, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kansas have become more restrictive, critics have taken the new "fetal pain" restrictions to court.

In one of the first rulings by a federal appeals court on such bans, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has struck down Arizona's restrictive ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The court cited "40 years of Supreme Court precedents that allow a woman to terminate her pregnancy if the fetus is not yet viable," notes the San Francisco Chronicle.

The appellate court ruling overturned a lower court's approval of the abortion law approved by governor Jan Brown in early 2012. The law in question "would prohibit physicians from carrying out abortions starting at 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in medical emergencies, and could send doctors who perform them to jail," notes Reuters.

Nine other states have similar bans on abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy–the point at which a fetus is thought to be able to feel pain–notes the Associated Press. By contrast, a fetus is generally considered "viable" at 24 weeks.

Idaho's fetal pain law was the first to fall, but at the district not appellate level.

Arkansas faces an injunction against its newly passed ban on abortions after 12 weeks' gestation. Meanwhile, North Dakota's only abortion clinic has also filed suit after the state approved a bill to ban some abortions as soon as six weeks into pregnancy.

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