Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., announced May 17 he would expand his bill to prohibit abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization from the District of Columbia to the entire country. Franks' legislation, the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would ban abortions at that developmental stage based on evidence a child in the womb experiences pain by that point.
Franks' announcement came four days after a Philadelphia jury convicted Gosnell of the first-degree murder of three born-alive babies as well as 21 counts of violating a state ban on abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gosnell, 72, received three consecutive life sentences without parole for the murder convictions.
In addition, the congressman announced his amendment only three days after pro-life organizations began releasing reports on a gruesome late-term abortion practice by a Houston doctor, Douglas Karpen. The eyewitness testimony provided by former Karpen employees bolstered assertions by pro-lifers that Gosnell is only one of an unknown number of doctors in the United States who are performing illegal, late-term abortions and/or either killing born-alive infants or allowing them to die without medical care.
The Gosnell case, Franks said, "shocked the sensibilities of millions of Americans. However, the crushing fact is that abortions on babies just like the ones killed by Kermit Gosnell have been happening hundreds of times per day, every single day, for the past 40 years."
"Knowingly subjecting our innocent unborn children to dismemberment in the womb, particularly when they have developed to the point that they can feel excruciating pain every terrible moment leading up to their undeserved deaths, belies everything America was called to be," Franks said in a written statement.
Pro-life leaders applauded Franks' decision to expand the scope of his legislation.
Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land commended Franks for giving attention "to the humanity of unborn children. There is extremely convincing evidence scientifically that unborn babies feel pain when they are burned alive in saline solution abortions and when they are torn asunder in other methods of abortion."
"Drawing attention to this and banning such abortions because of the pain experienced by our unborn citizens can only help to put a human face on our unborn citizens to the general public and make it more difficult for the pro-abortion forces to continue their slaughter of the unborn segment of the population," Land told Baptist Press.
Land is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Franks previously had introduced the bill as a ban affecting only the District of Columbia, which the U.S. Constitution has granted Congress authority over. Last year, Franks sponsored a similar ban in D.C. but it failed to gain congressional approval. The House of Representatives voted 220-154 for his measure, but it required a two-thirds majority under the rule by which it came to the floor.
A hearing will be held May 23 before the House Constitution and Civil Justice Subcommittee, which Franks chairs.
Nine states have enacted bans similar to Franks' proposal, according to the National Right to Life Committee.
Before Franks' expansion of his bill, other Republicans in Congress called for investigations of abortion clinics and cooperation from states to prevent the kind of murderous and horrific practices described in Gosnell's practice.
GOP members of both the Senate and House have called for Congress to investigate and remedy "abusive, unsanitary, and illegal abortion practices." Leaders of two House committees, meanwhile, have written attorneys general and health department officials seeking information on the regulation of abortion clinics in all 50 states.
In another pro-life effort, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., introduced May 14 a bill that would prohibit all federal funding for elective abortions. Land called it a "common-sense response to help ensure the federal government does not allocate taxpayer dollars in this offensive manner."
In the Gosnell case, the three children whom he was convicted of murdering were only some of hundreds at least six months into gestation who were killed outside the womb after induced delivery at a clinic criticized for its unsanitary and unsafe conditions, according to a 281-page report issued by a grand jury in 2011. Gosnell, who destroyed the records in most of those deaths, or a co-worker typically killed the living children by a technique he called "snipping" -- jabbing scissors into the back of a baby's neck and cutting the spinal cord.
On video, three ex-workers for Karpen described deaths of born-alive babies that involved the doctor twisting babies' heads off their necks, stabbing instruments into their stomachs or the soft spots of their heads, inserting his finger through babies' throats and severing their spinal cords. One former employee testified Karpen did abortions well past 24 weeks gestation.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).
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