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House panel approves legislation that would ban later-term abortions

| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:12 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The House is girding for another wrenching debate on abortion.

A House panel on Wednesday approved legislation that would ban almost all abortions after a fetus reaches the age of 20 weeks.

Several recent court decisions have struck down similar state laws, and the GOP-backed bill has little future in the Democratic-led Senate, but the measure will give House conservatives a rare chance to reaffirm their social issue credentials.

The bill, named the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” was approved by the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line 20-12 vote and could get a vote in the full House as early as next week.

House Republican leaders, concentrating on budgetary and jobs bills and investigating administration scandals, have largely avoided contentious social issues such as abortion, but anti-abortion conservatives have been spurred by the recent conviction of a Philadelphia abortion provider, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, for killing three babies born alive at his clinic.

“The terrifying facts uncovered during the course of the trial ... and successive reports of similar atrocities committed across the country, remind us how an atmosphere of insensitivity can lead to horrific brutality,” said committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Bill sponsor Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and others argued that there is evidence — a contention Democrats say is unproven — that fetuses can feel pain after five months, justifying a ban on later abortions.

A federal court in May overturned a 20-week abortion ban in Arizona, saying that the law violated a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy before a fetus is viable. Viability is generally considered to start at 24 weeks.

Some nine other states have enacted similar bans and have faced court challenges.

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