House Subcommittee Holds Hearing On Near-Total Abortion Ban, Citing Changing Courts Under Trump

A House subcommittee held a hearing today on a bill that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, cited the changing makeup of the courts under President Trump as a reason to believe the bill might not automatically be struck down as unconstitutional.

The bill, the “Heartbeat Protection Act of 2017,” is based on legislation championed by far-right Ohio activist Janet Porter, who sat in the front row during the committee hearing. Taking a page from Porter, Republicans invited a pregnant woman to have her fetus “testify” during the committee, showing a sonogram taken that morning on a screen in the committee hearing. The gestational age of the fetus was unclear, but the pregnancy seemed to be much farther along than six weeks. Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona later said, “I’ve never heard a more eloquent testimony than that little baby up on the screen.”

King opened the hearing by saying that now is the time for Congress to pass extreme anti-abortion bills because Trump’s judicial nominees will likely uphold them.

“It is important that Congress passes such a strong pro-life bill now,” he said, “because President Trump will hopefully appoint one or two more justices to the Supreme Court, making this a profound moment in the pro-life movement. President Trump is actively changing the makeup of our judicial system with strong, conservative nominees who would hear arguments about this bill while it is being challenged on the way to the Supreme Court.”

King added that “the constitutionality of this bill is evident” under the 14th Amendment because the Equal Protection Clause protects the “life and liberty of Americans living in their mothers wombs.”

The committee heard testimony from far-right activist Star Parker, anti-choice attorney David Forte, and Dr. Kathi Aultman, a former abortion provider who now opposes abortion rights. Aultman was initially identified by the committee as a fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a professional association that supports abortion rights. The committee later changed her affiliation on its website to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the anti-choice organization Susan B. Anthony List. At the hearing, Rep. Steve Cohen read a statement from ACOG clarifying that while Aultman is a member of the group she does not represent its views.

The committee invited one pro-choice witness, Priscilla Smith of Yale Law School’s Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice. Smith noted that a near-total abortion ban like the “heartbeat bill” risked forcing women into dangerous back-alley abortions, suggesting that Congress focus instead on lowering the United States’ maternal mortality rate, which is the worst in the developed world.