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House GOP passes major antiabortion bill. Why Democrats are pleased. (+video)

House Republicans passed legislation Tuesday that would ban abortions after 20 weeks' pregnancy. The party's social conservative base is happy, but Democrats see a political boon. 

By Staff writer / June 18, 2013

Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday. He is the author of a bill that would change US abortion law to ban almost all abortions after a fetus reaches the age of 20 weeks.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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Washington

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Tuesday passed the most significant antiabortion legislation in 10 years: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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The bill, which passed 228 to 196 on a mostly party-line vote, goes directly against the holding of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. Under Roe, states may not ban abortion previability – roughly 24 weeks’ gestational age.   

But the legislation is also largely symbolic. The Democratic-controlled Senate will not take it up, and so it’s going nowhere. Still, for both parties, the bill serves a political purpose.

For Republicans, it’s “a sop to the base,” particularly those members from red states that are adopting strict antiabortion legislation, says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

On the flip side, for Democrats, the legislation is a boon. “At the national level, the abortion issue has not worked for the Republican Party, particularly among women voters,” says Mr. Jillson.

The bill’s author, Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona, gave the Democrats a bonus gift last week when he said that the rate of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low.” He later corrected himself, but also added an exception to the bill for cases of rape and incest, albeit a limited one.

The uproar over Congressman Franks’s comment was reminiscent of other Republican gaffes over rape in last year’s elections. Former Rep. Todd Akin’s Senate bid in Missouri tanked when he asserted that women’s bodies can resist pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.” And in Indiana, Senate candidate Richard Mourdock also saw his political fortunes collapse when he said that pregnancy from rape is “something God intended.”

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