Statement of Hon. John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 1797, The "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,"

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Statement of Hon. John Conyers, Jr. for the Markup of H.R. 1797, The "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,"

Opening Statements

Opening Statement of the Hon. John Conyers, Jr. for the
Markup of H.R. 1797, the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,"
Before the House Committee on the Judiciary Full Committee

   At the outset, I want to be very clear: H.R. 1797 is an attack on a woman's constitutional right to choose.  This legislation represents one of the most far reaching bans on abortion this Committee has ever considered. The sponsors have tried to sugar coat the truth with a misleading title and pages of so called congressional findings, but the truth is plain and simple: This legislation is an attack on women, it is unconstitutional, and it ignores the real and very difficult challenges women face during their pregnancy.

   First, H.R. 1797 is an attack on women.  It bans legal and safe abortions and ignores science - and the good judgment of medical professionals - and forces women to be subjected to the reasoning of a panel full of men in Congress.

    Specifically, H.R. 1797 would create a nationwide ban on access to abortion care 20 weeks after fertilization, with no exceptions in cases of rape, incest or fetal anomalies.  And it explicitly bans later abortion care for a woman even where her mental health would threaten her life.

   For these reasons the bill is opposed by numerous women's organizations, religious groups, and medical professionals. In a letter to members of the committee, 15 religious organizations wrote, "the decision to end a pregnancy is best left to a woman in consultation with her family, her doctor, and her faith. Our laws should support and safeguard a woman's health - not deny access to care."

[I ask unanimous consent to enter that letter into the record.]

   Second, H.R. 1797 is patently unconstitutional.  The constitutional law is very clear on this subject.  The Supreme Court has required that – even after viability – any abortion prohibition must include an exception to protect the woman's life and health.

   Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit struck down an Arizona law similar to H.R. 1797.  In this case, Isaacson v. Horne, the court observed:

"Since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case law concerning the constitutional protection accorded women with respect to the decision whether to undergo an abortion has been unalterably clear regarding one basic point. . . a woman has a constitutional right to choose to terminate her pregnancy before the fetus is viable.  A prohibition on the exercise of that right is per se unconstitutional."

    The Court has also held that the Constitution requires that there be an exception to any prohibition to protect a woman's life and health, even after viability.  

As the Supreme Court stated in Roe:

"With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the ‘compelling' point is at viability.  This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb.  State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justification.  If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go as far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."

    In direct conflict with these constitutional requirements, H.R. 1797 contains only a very narrow life exception and no exception at all for the health of a woman.  And, the legislation goes so far as to explicitly state that a risk of suicide is insufficient cause to allow a woman to end a pregnancy.

    Finally,  H.R. 1797 clearly ignores the real world problems that women face during their pregnancy.

    This legislation disregards the fact that some pregnancies can be dangerous and that abortion restrictions that lack adequate health exceptions endanger the lives and health of these women.

    Take the tragic experience of Danielle Deaver, who was 22 weeks pregnant when her water broke.  Tests revealed that she suffered from a condition that caused a premature rupture before the fetus had achieved viability.  

    Mrs. Deaver and her husband explored every option to save the pregnancy, even after learning that the fetus would likely:

  • suffer deformities to the face and head, resulting in a 98% chance that the child would be unable to eat on her own;
  • have less than a 10% chance of being able to breathe on its own; and
  • be born with a shortening of muscle tissue, resulting in the inability to move limbs.

    After the couple made the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy, the doctor informed them that the procedure could not be performed because their home state of Nebraska enacted a ban similar to H.R. 1797 just 2 months earlier.  

    Even as Mrs. Deaver's uterus continued to crush the fetus, her doctors were powerless to help her.  Eight days later, she endured intense pain and infection giving birth to her daughter Elizabeth who survived for just fifteen minutes.

    Stories, like Mrs. Deaver's, should make us pay careful attention to science and the real-life decisions women face.  

    Instead, this bill usurps the careful and serious deliberations of families and their doctors, and places decision making authority in the hands of Congress.

    No good ever comes of a majority male panel deciding the legal rights of women. I urge my colleagues to oppose this out of touch and unconstitutional bill.



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