Evening News Virtually Ignores GOP's Attempt To Pass Extreme 20-Week Abortion Ban In Senate

Broadcast evening news programs were once again virtually silent on congressional Republicans' attempt to restrict women's access to reproductive health care by pushing an extreme 20-week ban through the Senate. The same outlets ignored a GOP-controlled House vote on a similar bill in May.

Republican Push To Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks Of Pregnancy Dies In The Senate 

Senate Democrats Block Extreme 20-Week Abortion Ban. On September 22, Senate Democrats blocked a Republican push to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill was part of the GOP's efforts “to establish new abortion limits without shutting down the government,” as The Wall Street Journal reported:

The Senate on Tuesday blocked a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, thwarting one component of a Republican antiabortion push sparked by the release of undercover videos.

A group of 40 members of the Democratic caucus and 2 Republicans defeated the 20-week abortion ban in a 54-42 procedural vote Tuesday. The measure, already approved by the House in May, needed 60 votes to advance in the Senate. But the vote didn't douse the abortion debate still roiling both chambers of Congress.

Republicans in both chambers have been wrestling with how to respond to videos released by an antiabortion group showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing procuring fetal tissue from abortions to provide to third parties for medical research. Some conservatives in both the House and Senate want to try to strip federal funding from the women's health organization as part of a must-pass spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown onOct. 1. The government's current funding expires Sept. 30.

Tuesday's vote was part of an effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) to meet conservative demands to establish new abortion limits without shutting down the government. Republicans said the 20-week abortion ban would end a practice that they said causes fetuses pain and is done when fetuses may be potentially viable. [The Wall Street Journal9/22/15]

Broadcast Evening News Programs Once Again Virtually Ignored Efforts To Push Through Extreme Anti-Abortion Legislation

Evening News Programs All But Silent On Attempts To Pass 20-Week Abortion Ban In The Senate In Run-Up To The Vote. A Media Matters review of nightly news programs between September 9 and 22 found that ABC's World News Tonight, NBC's Nightly News, and CBS' Evening News all completely ignored the anti-choice measure, while PBS' Newshour mentioned it briefly in a single segment.

Evening News Programs Previously Failed To Report On Congressional Republicans' Efforts To Pass Extreme 20-Week Abortion Ban. According to a previous Media Matters review of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS' nightly news programs between January 1 to May 13, ABC's World News Tonight and NBC's Nightly News completely ignored House Republicans' attempts to pass a 20-week abortion ban, while CBS Evening News ran one segment highlighting the GOP proposal on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. PBS' Newshour devoted four segments to the legislation, and was the only network to cover the House's passage of the ban. [Media Matters5/14/15]

Reproductive Health Experts Have Condemned 20-Week Abortion Bans

Guttmacher: 20-Week Abortion Ban “Is Misguided and Harms Women's Health.” In a statement on the Senate's proposed measure to block abortion after 20 weeks, the Guttmacher Institute explained that such a ban is based on “faulty science” surrounding fetal pain and is both “harmful to women's health and fundamentally misguided”:

The proposed federal ban on abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization (equivalent to 22 weeks' gestation) is harmful to women's health and fundamentally misguided. The bill is premised on faulty science, would fall hardest on the most vulnerable women, and contains provisions that could lead to the targeting of abortion providers. Instead of pursuing such a ban, those concerned about later abortions should work to help women access abortion care earlier in pregnancy and should also promote policies to prevent unintended pregnancy.

The 20-week abortion ban, misleadingly labeled as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is based at least in part on the assertion that fetuses can experience pain starting at 20 weeks post-fertilization--a claim that is not supported by the preponderance of scientific evidence. The bill is also patently unconstitutional, since it would prohibit abortion before viability without any exception to preserve a woman's health. The bill also includes particularly callous and cruel rape and incest exceptions that force rape victims to wait 48 hours and make two visits to see two different providers before having an abortion.

Moreover, the 20-week abortion ban would fall hardest on low-income women, the very group bearing a disproportionate burden of unintended pregnancies. According to a study by researchers at UCSF, women obtaining an abortion at or after 20 weeks' gestation were much more likely than women obtaining an abortion in the first trimester to report delays because they had difficulty raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, or because they had difficulty securing insurance coverage. [Guttmacher Institute, 9/21/15]

Center for Reproductive Rights: 20-Week Abortion Bans “Take Critical Medical Decisions Out Of A Woman's Hands At A Time When She Needs Trusted Medical Advice.” According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, bans on abortion after 20 weeks show “disregard for a woman's personal circumstances” including their medical treatment and the “financial costs or care and travel” required for many to obtain an abortion:

Bans on abortion at 20 weeks take critical medical decisions out of a woman's hands at a time when she needs trusted medical advice, compassion, and access - not political interference. A recent study found that common reasons for ending a pregnancy after 20 weeks include barriers to accessing earlier abortion care, late detection of pregnancy, delayed decision-making, and trouble meeting the financial costs of care and travel. A woman who is 20 weeks pregnant may also find that she needs an abortion because she requires medical treatment in order to protect her health or life. It is also possible that she may learn in the second trimester about a fetal anomaly that would negatively impact the health of her pregnancy. These realities make it all the more evident that politicians trying to ban abortion at 20 weeks are doing so with the utmost disregard for a woman's personal circumstances.

In the United States, the majority of abortions are performed during the first trimester of pregnancy and only 1.3% occur at 21 weeks or later, a number that has not varied significantly since 1983.13 While it may be a small percentage of women who face this situation, each one should be able to make the critical decision without unwarranted political interference. [Center for Reproductive Rights, 9/11/15]

Many Serious Health Conditions For Mother And Fetus Are Only Discovered In 20th Week Of Pregnancy

American College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists: Optimal Time When Obstetric Ultrasound Detects Major Malformations Is Between 18 And 20 Weeks.  According to recommendations by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the “optimal time for an obstetric ultrasound examination is between 18 to 20 weeks of gestation because anatomically complex organs, such as the fetal heart and brain, can be imaged with sufficient clarity to allow detection of many major malformations.” [Aetna.com, Clinical Policy Bulletin, accessed 1/13/15]

Pediatric Cardiologist: Scans Around Week 20 “Are Critical For Uncovering Major Birth Defects.” A pediatric cardiologist and managing director of the Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform who specializes in high-risk pregnancies explained in a July 11, 2013 article for Slate that 20-week scans can reveal serious medical complications, including severe brain malformations of the fetus and missing organs:

Why do some women wait so long? The answer is that comprehensive fetal testing, such as anatomical sonograms and ultrasounds of the heart, are typically performed just before 20 weeks of gestation. Such scans are critical for uncovering major birth defects, such as anencephaly (severe brain malformations), major heart defects, missing organs and limbs, and other severe birth defects. Fetal development is a complex process that often goes awry. Roughly 2 percent of all pregnancies are complicated by a major birth defect, and of those about 0.5 percent have a chromosomal defect, such as an extra or missing segment of normal DNA. Birth defects are a leading cause of infant mortality, and in many cases of severe birth defects, no medical treatment can salvage a fetus's life or result in any measure of normal future health. [Slate, 7/11/13]

ACOG: “By The Time A Diagnosis Is Confirmed ... The Pregnancy Has Often Progressed Beyond 20 Weeks.” ACOG explained in an amicus brief opposing a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in Arizona that while some dangerous conditions affecting the fetus can be detected earlier than week 20, "[b]y the time a diagnosis is confirmed by a specialist capable of diagnosing these anomalies, the pregnancy has often progressed beyond 20 weeks." [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/11/12]


Media Matters searched Nexis transcripts of ABC, NBC, CBS, and PBS evening news programs from September 9 to September 22, 2015 for variations of the terms “abortion” or “reproductive.” We identified and reviewed all segments that included any of the keywords.