Conservatives say the bill is borne out of compassion for the unborn. Opponents say it's the latest example of an abuse of power.
The bill, H.R.3803 - The District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, aims to ban abortions at or after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the nation's capital.
"The late term abortion of unborn children who can feel pain is, in my opinion, the greatest human rights atrocity in the United States today," said Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., who chaired a hearing on the bill.
Democrats countered with what has grown into an election year theme for their party.
"This looks like another battle in the Republican war on women," Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said.
The bill would only apply to the District of Columbia, which critics seized upon to exploit hypocrisy from conservatives who subscribe to the mantra of states' rights.
"Is there anything unique that this should be applied to D.C. and nowhere else?" asked Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.
But Rep. Franks told CBN News neither the issue of Congress's constitutional authority over the District nor Congressional protocol (Franks refused to permit D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to testify before the panel) captured the essence of the debate. He said the purpose of the hearing was to protect the unborn by pointing to evidence that they can feel pain.
In witness testimony, Republicans called on three medical experts in the fields of pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology to refute reports that suggest otherwise.
Rather than calling in their own expert, Democrats reserved their only witness position for Christy Zink, a Washington, D.C., resident who opposed the bill based on her own past experience.
Zink, a mother of two, recounted how she and her husband chose an abortion in 2009 after learning 21 weeks into pregnancy that their unborn child was missing part of its brain.
"If this bill had been passed before my pregnancy, I would have had to carry to term and give birth to a baby whom the doctors concurred had no chance of a life and would have experienced near-constant pain," Zink explained. "The decision I made to have an abortion at almost 22 weeks was made out of love and to spare my son's pain and suffering."
Franks' bill does provide an exception to save the life of the mother but instructs the physician to attempt to save the child if possible. If passed, medical professionals who break the law could be fined and imprisoned for up to 2 years.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate.
Questioning its constitutionality, opponents are calling on Republicans to make the law federally applicable beyond the District of Columbia.
Currently, more than a dozen other states have some sort of fetal pain laws on their books.