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GOP health care bill, h.r. 36
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Fact Check: Is Rep. DelBene misleading on abortion bill?

Suzan DelBene. (AP)

This week, the House passed H.R. 36, or the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. It makes it a crime to perform or attempt to perform an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with the possibility of a fine, up to five years in prison, or both.

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On the pro-life side, the argument is that a fetus feels pain at the 20-week mark. On the pro-choice side, the argument is that the fetus doesn’t. Though this restriction won’t make it out of the Senate and represents just over 1 percent of abortions, it, of course, has generated a host of claims to demonize the opposition and claim the bill is extreme.

Whether or not you view this bill as extreme is certainly subjective and can’t be fact-checked. But, something that a local congresswoman claimed, can be.

Representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA) took to the House floor to tell the story of Stephanie, a constituent who went through the gut-wrenching decision to terminate her child because delivering the child would have put her life on the line. This was a wanted pregnancy. DelBene said:

But at 19 weeks, Stephanie got heartbreaking news. Her fetus had a devastating, fatal birth defect. Based on her age, medical history, and test results, she was strongly advised to terminate the pregnancy. Stephanie ultimately decided not to carry the pregnancy to term. She told me – through tears – that her daughter needed her mother, and it ‘wasn’t worth the risk.’

In defending her no vote on H.R. 36, Rep. DelBene declared in an email that the bill “… lacks any meaningful exemptions to protect a woman’s health …” In her speech, she claims the bill “punished women like Stephanie.”

Does it? Let’s fact check it.

H.R. 36 offers exemptions

Rep. DelBene is wrong to suggest the bill would punish Stephanie or anyone in a similar situation. There is a very specific pair of exemptions on mothers dealing with medical issues should they give birth. The bill would not ban abortions under these two circumstances:

“(I) the death of the pregnant woman; or
“(II) the substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions, of the pregnant woman.

You can read the bill here and see for yourself. The standard in applying the exceptions is if with “reasonable medical judgment” a doctor would think you’re at greater risk of death or physical impairment if you do not abort. Now, are these “meaningful” to DelBene? I imagine she says no. But we’d be redefining what we would normally consider meaningful. Beyond that, it’s clear that Stephanie and her doctor would be exempted from the bill.

The Verdict: False

DelBene is clearly against curtailing a woman’s right to choose. She can make that point and take a stand without misleading people on the content of the bill; indeed, you can still be against this bill with the exemptions in place since the science is hardly as cut and dry as the pro-life argument makes it. But Stephanie’s story only makes a good case if the bill didn’t include the exemptions. But the exceptions clearly exist and I don’t think DelBene’s statement passes a fact check.

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