General Articles

U.S. Senator Pushes Twenty-Week Abortion Ban

By Chelsea Wiggins, SIECUS Fellow

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) renewed his push this month for a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks despite the fact that under Roe v. Wade, abortion is legal until 24 weeks’ gestation. S. 1670, titled The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would ban abortion after 20 weeks with narrow exceptions only for a woman’s life or in cases of rape or incest where it has already been reported to the authorities. The bill makes no exception for a woman’s mental health or risk of permanent injury to the woman, nor does it contain any exception for severe fetal abnormalities, even those that can only be detected after 20 weeks’ gestation.[1] Doctors who violate the act could be imprisoned for up to five years.[2] The bill mirrors the 20-week ban passed in the House in June 2013.[3]

Graham’s bill bans abortion after 20 weeks under the theory that fetuses are capable of feeling pain at that point,[4] but medical evidence does not support this claim. Scientific studies on fetal pain by the American Medical Association show that fetuses are incapable of feeling pain until the third trimester (around 28 weeks), a stance supported by other major, well-regarded organizations like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.[5] Nonetheless, early abortion bans based on the inaccurate claim of early fetal pain have passed in at least a dozen states, and are listed as a top priority by the National Right to Life Committee.[6]

Twenty-week bans are among several popular new approaches advanced by anti-choice advocates, who enacted 70 abortion restrictions in 2013 alone.[7] In North Dakota and Arkansas, state legislators passed very early abortion bans based on the presence of a fetal heartbeat; North Dakota’s ban blocked abortions at six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant.[8] TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have gained steam as well; these laws, which place unnecessary regulatory burdens on abortion practitioners and facilities, have contributed to the shuttering of dozens of abortion clinics since 2010.[9]

On May 13, Sen. Graham attempted and failed to force a vote on both his bill and the Women’s Health Protection Act (S.1696), which aims to block TRAP laws and other abortion restrictions that do not meet the standard set forth in Roe v. Wade.[10] Though Graham opposes the Women’s Health Protection Act, he wanted to force a vote before the bills had gone through committee so that the Senate would have a vote on record for both bills.[11] Some, including Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), speculate that Graham’s recent revival of this issue is an attempt to affirm his conservative views for concerned voters in the upcoming South Carolina primaries.[12] S. 1670 currently has no Democratic sponsors, but 41 Republicans have signed on in support of the bill, and the Republican National Committee recently passed a resolution in support of 20-week bans.[13]

[1], S.1670– Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, accessed May 20, 2014,

[2] Ibid.

[3], H.R.1797—Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, accessed May 20, 2014,

[4], S.1670– Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, accessed May 20, 2014,

[5] Jacobson, Jodi, “Trent Franks, Abortion Bans, and the Fetal Pain Lie” RH Reality Check. June 13, 2013, accessed May 20, 2014,

[6] NARAL Pro-Choice America, “Abortion Bans at 20 Weeks: A Dangerous Restriction for Women.” January 1, 2014, accessed May 20, 2014,

[7] National Women’s Law Center, “2013 State Level Abortion Restrictions: An Extreme Overreach Into Women’s Reproductive Health Care.” January 28, 2014, accessed May 20, 2014,

[8] Kissel, Kelly, “Arkansas’ 12-Week Abortion Ban Is Struck Down By Federal Judge” The Huffington Post. March 15, 2014, accessed May 20, 2014,

[9] Culp-Ressler, Tara, “More Than 50 Abortion Clinics Have Shut Down Over The Past Three Years” ThinkProgress. August 26, 2013, accessed May 20, 2014,

[10] Bassett, Laura, “Lindsey Graham Pushes Abortion Ban, Says He Knows Twins Born At 20 Weeks” The Huffington Post. May 13, 2014, accessed May 20, 2014,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13]Feminist Newswire, “Senator Lindsey Graham Pushes Federal 20-Week Abortion Ban” Feminist Majority Foundation. May 13, 2014, accessed May 20, 2014,