On Wednesday, a mere one day before the annual March for Life to commemorate the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the Republican majority in Congress had an opportunity to pass legislation which would make abortions illegal past 20 weeks of a pregnancy. This seems to be a winner all around from both a practical and political standpoint, especially since a recent Quinnipiac poll indicated 60% support for legislation "that would ban virtually all abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest that are reported to authorities." Seems like a proverbial no-brainer.
Ah, but this is Congressional Republicans we're talking about.
House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation's restrictive language would once again spoil the party's chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.
In recent days, as many as two dozen Republicans had raised concerns with the "Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Sponsors said that exceptions would be allowed for a woman who is raped, but she could only get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement.
A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life, a gathering that brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists to Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.
The House will vote instead Thursday on a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions -- a more innocuous anti-abortion measure that the Republican-controlled chamber has passed before.
A senior GOP aide said that concerns had been raised "by men and women Members that still need to be worked out." The aide, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly about the plans, said in an e-mail that Thursday's vote will help "advance the pro-life cause" and that GOP leaders "remain committed to continue working through the process [on the Pain Capable bill] to make sure it too is successful."
Other aides said that leaders were eager to avoid political fallout from a large number of female Republicans voting against an abortion bill in the early stages of the new GOP-controlled Congress.
This makes no sense, especially given the poll results I cited earlier. In fact, 59% of women surveyed supported a measure similar to what was passed by the House in 2013 and was brought up this week. Heck, even those who identify themselves as Democrats are split almost right down the middle on the issue (46% for, 47% against).
This is a complete embarrassment when you consider that "right to life" issues are supposedly a tenet of the Republican party, the same party which currently has its largest House majority since the days of President Herbert Hoover.
“I’m honestly stunned — what a complete and utter debacle,” says one Republican lawmaker who supports the legislation. The sticking point: “reporting requirements,” as they’re known on the Hill. In short, the bill bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy — when the in utero infant can feel pain — except in cases of rape, incest, or for the life of the mother. But to benefit from the rape and incest exception, the victim has to report the crime to law enforcement.
President Obama criticized that provision as “demonstrating a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting,” such as fear of retaliation from their attackers. “Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement,” his statement of administration policy says.
That line of attack worries some Republicans. “There seems to be a fear of Dem attack ads, which is odd for an issue that is 2:1 in our favor,” the GOP lawmaker says.
It’s especially odd given that some of the Republican women who oppose these reporting requirements voted for them when the bill passed the House last Congress.
Smart Girl Politics, a 501(c)4 whose mission is "to engage, educate, and empower conservative women to get involved in the political process," posted the following on their Twitter feed:
We hereby #Unendorse @RepReneeEllmers and @RepWalorski for their cowardice. cc: @EWErickson pic.twitter.com/iUObL2IX1u
— Smart Girl Politics (@OfficialSGP) January 23, 2015
Looks like the talk of primaries has started already.