The House of Representatives, along mostly party lines by a count of 228-196, passed legislation Tuesday banning abortions after 20 weeks. The legislation, however, does not stand a chance of becoming law with the Democratic-controlled Senate vehemently opposed to limiting abortion and a White House veto looming if the bill was approved on Capitol Hill.
But the impact of yet another abortion debate on the House floor isn't likely to fade any time soon.
Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who has a long history of fighting to limit abortions, authored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act in direct response to the high-profile court case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortion doctor who administered late-term abortions, many after 24 weeks. Earlier this year, Gosnell was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of manslaughter for administering a lethal dose of anesthetic to one adult patient.
Franks says he sponsored the bill to stop doctors from "subjecting innocent unborn children to dismemberment in the womb" especially when they have developed to the point when "they can feel excruciating pain."
But the latest House abortion debate has attracted the ire of Democrats and pro-choice groups, who say the fight is emblematic of the GOP's "war on women." And Franks made matters worse last week when he spoke out against an amendment to add an exception for rape victims, saying "the incidence of pregnancy resulting from rape is very low."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign committee has already lumped Franks' comment in with the high-profile campaign trail gaffe of 2012 Senate candidate Todd Akin, R-Mo., who said that women's bodies could shut down to avoid becoming pregnant in instances of rape.
The DCCC has also attempted to link vulnerable Republicans from suburban districts outside of Philadelphia and New York to Franks' comments.
While House Speaker John Boehner carried out his promise to give the bill time on the floor, Republican leaders went into damage control last week and made some last minute changes to the bill. Exceptions were added to protect victims of rape and incest if they report the crime to authorities, a move overwhelmingly supported by the American public. And leaders asked Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who has worked closely on abortion issues in years past, to be the face of the bill and preside over the floor debate instead of Franks.
Democrats, however, came to the floor Tuesday to criticize Republicans' narrow exceptions for victims of rape. Many argued the exception should be made for all victims of sexual assault, not just women who report their rapes.
"We all know that there are many reasons why rapes and incest often don't get reported: the toll our criminal justice system takes on rape victims, the humiliation, the harassment, the psychological trauma, having to face sometimes heartless cross-examination, having to appear in the press or having to face death threats from friends and neighbors of the perpetrators," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on the House floor.
The House debate is the most high-profile instance of abortion legislation so far this year. Across the country, 14 state legislatures, from North Dakota to Colorado, have moved to limit abortions. In North Dakota, the legislature passed a bill that would ban abortions when a baby's heartbeat can be detected, something that can happen as early as six weeks after conception.