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House approves ban on abortions after 20 weeks

WASHINGTON – Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., joined with other Republicans and a few Democrats on Tuesday to pass a U.S. House bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy out of concern that fetuses can feel pain.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, approved on a 228-196 mostly party-line vote, is considered a challenge to the long-standing Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortions up to the time a fetus becomes viable, or about 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

The bill is expected to be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama has threatened to veto the measure.

“We must never hesitate to protect the most vulnerable and helpless lives,” Pearce said after the vote.

New Mexico’s other two representatives, Democratic Reps. Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham, voted against the abortion measure Tuesday.

The bill was widely viewed as a response to the high-profile case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion provider who last month received a life sentence for what prosecutors said was the murder of three babies delivered alive. The case energized abortion opponents, who said it exemplified the inhumanity of late-term abortions. Supporters of legalized abortion argue that banning abortion would only lead to more illegal procedures like the ones Gosnell performed.

The original House bill, sponsored by anti-abortion leader Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., was aimed only at the District of Columbia, but was expanded to cover the entire nation after the Gosnell case received national attention.

“It is atrocious that millions of babies in the U.S. have suffered what we call abortion, never given a chance at life,” Pearce said. “A majority of Americans agree that late-term abortions are wrong, and today’s legislation is a step in the right direction for our nation.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called Tuesday’s U.S. House vote “shameless politics.”

“It’s anti-choice lawmakers in Congress catering to the most extreme wing of their political base,” she said in a statement. “The House of Representatives should be working on the country’s real, pressing challenges, not wasting their time and our money re-fighting 40-year-old battles and putting women’s health and safety in jeopardy in order to advance their own political agenda.”

Eleven state legislatures have passed similar measures. Several have been challenged in court, and a federal court last month struck down a slightly different Arizona law that banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.