6 Myths About the Proposed 20-Week Abortion Ban

On Tuesday, October 3, the House will vote on HR 36, the so-called “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” If that legislation sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same 20-week federal abortion ban that abortion opponents have tried to pass for years — and that President Donald Trump promised to sign if he was elected to the White House.

Just as the bill has little distinction from the previous failed iterations, the talking points surrounding the bill are virtually identical, too. Some are spin, while others are outright lies — and all of them need to be debunked.

Here are just a few anti-choice arguments and the real story behind these supposed “facts.”

1. Babies are born and survive at “20 weeks.”

A lot of confusion emerges when abortion opponents discuss “20 weeks” and fetal viability. What they claim is 20 weeks — and what is proposed in the bill — is actually 22 weeks gestation.

Gestation refers to the period of time from last menstrual period to birth — or, if that date is unclear, two weeks are added to the point of conception. This allows the date to be adjusted to the typical “40 weeks of pregnancy” calculation doctors use to discuss fetal development.

No child has ever survived after being born at 20 weeks gestation. Even “Micah,” who will be the face of the ban during the House vote, was actually born at 22 weeks gestation.

2. Science has the ability to save babies at earlier and earlier gestation.

While science has greatly improved the outcome of premature infants, there is still no way to roll viability to before about 22 weeks gestation. Fetal lungs are simply not mature enough to inflate and deflate consistently on their own until around that point.

“Viability” is also not a set point in time. Viability can depend on weight, gender and the amount of prenatal care a pregnant person receives — or even the medical care available at the time. Injections can help lungs mature more quickly, but this still varies from birth to birth.

There is no “test” that can be run to see if a fetus is viable before it is born.

3. A fetus feels pain at 20 weeks.

Although a handful of scientists and doctors — all of whom oppose abortion — say a fetus can feel pain at 22 weeks gestation, the overwhelming medical consensus is that this is simply not true.

Quoting an examination of studies from 2005, Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco explained on behalf of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG] in 2015:

“The capacity for conscious perception of pain can arise only after thalamocortical pathways begin to function, which may occur in the third trimester around 29 to 30 weeks’ gestational age, based on the limited data available.” It is true that thalamocortical fibers begin to form between 23 and 30 weeks of gestation, but the authors emphasize that while “the presence of thalamocortical fibers is necessary for pain perception, their mere presence is insufficient—this pathway must also be functional.” This happens at around 30 weeks.”

Dr. DeFrancesco notes that since 2005 there has been no evidence or other studies to rebut these findings.

4. “Late-term” abortion is barbaric.

Abortion opponents throw around the words “late-term” abortion a lot, but there is no such thing in the medical world. “Full term” is a phrase that describes a pregnancy that has advanced to 37 weeks — if a person goes into labor earlier, it is called “pre-term” labor. So, in order for “late-term” abortion to be a real thing, it would be defining abortion after 37 weeks, and that obviously doesn’t occur.

Even abortion opponents themselves admit that the phrase is basically meaningless. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research organization:

Late-term abortion is not an exact medical term, but it has been used at times to refer to surgical dilation & evacuation (dismemberment) abortions as well as intact dilation & extraction (partial-birth) abortions performed in the second (13-27 weeks) and third (27-39 weeks) trimesters.

In other words, ”late-term abortion” is being used as a catch-all for anything that takes place after the first trimester — even when these procedures occur well before viability.

5. The U.S. is one of only seven nations in the world that allows abortion after 20 weeks.

Nope. This was debunked the last time the bill was debated, as well. According to Politifact:

Another 59 nations generally allowed an abortion to preserve a pregnant woman’s physical health on a broader scale, with Israel, New Zealand and others also accepting mental health reasons as valid exceptions. India and Japan belonged among 13 countries granting even wider exceptions including access to the procedure for socioeconomic reasons based on factors like age of the woman or very low income. In practice, [world abortion access expert Katy] Mayall told us, gestational limits don’t mean a woman can’t obtain an abortion after the specified period. She said that in dozens of countries, accepted reasons for an abortion at any time before viability include protection of the life or health of the woman, sometimes including mental health, and also in cases of severe fetal impairment.

Meanwhile, this federal bill would not allow an exception for fetal anomalies, conditions which usually aren’t discovered until just around the point in which abortion would be banned.

6. Polls show people overwhelmingly oppose abortion after 20 weeks.

Technically, polls do support this claim. Most recently Marist polling – conducted on behalf of Catholic organization the Knights of Columbus — shows these responses, although based on the other responses, it is difficult to know exactly how the questions were worded or how accurate the polling was.

But we do know how Washington Post polling asked the question – and it was not terribly even-handed.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has said abortion is legal without restriction in about the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. Some states have passed laws reducing this to 20 weeks. If it has to be one or the other, would you rather have abortions legal without restriction up to (20) weeks, or up to (24) weeks?” they questioned — despite the fact that, no, abortion isn’t actually legal without restrictions in most of the country even in the first trimester. The polling also ignored cost, availability, waiting periods and other restrictions.

On the other hand, when given details about why abortions after 20 weeks may be needed, 60 percent of respondents disapprove of bans.

Photo credit: Robin Marty, via Flickr


Chad A
Chad A2 months ago

Thank you.

Kelsey S
Kelsey S2 months ago


Carl R
Carl R2 months ago


Mike R
Mike R2 months ago


Mike R
Mike R2 months ago


One Heart i
One Heart inc3 months ago


Mary F
Mary F3 months ago

Many years ago I knew a Christian woman who being a pastor`s wife truly believed that abortion was the Devil's instrument to keep more potential followers of Jesus from being born. She was the director of the Crisis Pregnancy Center. Their aim was to save the unborn baby and redeem the mother from her evil ways. After all of this "saving" what happens? The teenage mother goes on Welfare and the "saviors" get another notch on their belt!

Amanda M
Amanda M3 months ago

And if the anti-choicers are truly all about "all life," then THEY should be the ones made to pay for the care of the unwanted kids in the foster system or the medical care of the deformed children that they will be preventing women from aborting (since fetal defects or anomalies aren't detected until the second trimester). I'm talking about kids born with Tay-Sachs, Edwards syndrome (trisomy 18), oomphalocele, anencephaly, fragile skin syndrome, and many others. For these women and these doomed fetuses, abortion is the more humane option that PREVENTS pain and suffering. It's QUALITY of life that truly matters, not quantity!

Amanda M
Amanda M3 months ago

Once again, the anti-choicers are using misinformation and lies to try to prevent women from having control over their own bodies. Sorry gang, but the true measure of life is CONSCIOUS BRAIN FUNCTION, not automatic functions like heartbeat or respiration! Science has proven that the full sensory functions like pain don't come "on-line" until the THIRD trimester, well past the current viability threshold of 6 months. And yes, I said months-I don't count by weeks since the date of IMPLANTATION is impossible to pin down, and that's when pregnancy truly starts since the vast majority of fertilized zygotes pass on through, resulting in the woman's period. And the vast majority of abortions are performed in the first trimester, not the second-those are performed due to the woman's health, the discovery of a genetic condition, fetal defect/deformity that is INCOMPATIBLE WITH LIFE, or because it takes longer for a woman to scrape together the money for an abortion (to say nothing of arranging transportation, child care, etc. especially if she lives in a state with draconian abortions restrictions like that "waiting period" BS or mandatory ultrasound and "counseling"). If the anti-choicers truly cared about life, then they would be lining up to take care of kids in the foster system or adopting the older ones. But no, they just want women to stay pregnant No Matter What and make it impossible for us to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Don't. Make. Me.

Jan S
Jan S3 months ago

Thank you