Area’s GOP representatives pull party their way a bit

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

And Now: Air Republicans.

Republicans on Capitol Hill this week suffered an embarrassing defeat after being forced to drop legislation that would have outlawed abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Given control of Congress and the chance to frame an economic agenda for the middle class, the first thing Republicans do is tie themselves in knots over … abortion and rape. With the new, fully Republican-led Congress three weeks old, they are serving notice they will no longer keep quiet as their more ideological colleagues push legislation to the right, demand votes on social issues, or court government shutdowns to try to block President Obama. ‘‘There’s a growing sense in the conference that we need to get things done here, not just make political statements,’’ said Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida, a freshmen lawmaker. ‘‘We should be focused on the agenda of the American people and not on taking an infinite amount of symbolic votes that aren’t going to get anything done.’’ Most of these lawmakers are self-described conservatives, but with a practical, business-friendly approach, and without the uncompromising purity of some on the right. Anthony List and Americans United for Life call the 20-week ban, dubbed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in many states, their top priority in legislative sessions getting underway this month. “The five month late term abortion limit is an important part of our premier legislative project,” said Ovide Lamontagne, general counsel at Americans United for Life. “Protecting a women from the health risks associated with a late term abortion as well protecting the interests of an unborn child who is so far developed as to feel pain is supported by a vast majority of Americans and is supportable under the law.” While moderate Republicans in Congress convinced leaders to pull the measure over concerns it might make the party look too extreme, moderate factions in far more conservative state legislatures have much less sway.

But a vote on the legislation had to be canceled after female GOP House members reportedly balked over the way an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape was limited. At least there are some in the party who recognize how much trouble Republicans make for themselves by breaking the armistice in the culture wars and launching battles that cannot be won. GOP leaders had been forced into one embarrassing retreat after another on legislation, and the federal government had been propelled into a partial 16-day shutdown in the fall of 2013 in a failed attempt to block Obama’s health law.

First, he would make permanent all the discriminatory restrictions already in place for tens of millions of women who depend on the government for their health insurance, including Medicaid recipients. (These rules, which deny nearly all abortion coverage, are up for renewal every year). The only purpose of the planned vote was to create an “event” that the annual anti-abortion March for Life, held Thursday in Washington, could celebrate. In committee, its sponsor, Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona, claimed that the number of rapes resulting in pregnancy was “very low.” He did not actually say that a woman can’t get pregnant if she didn’t enjoy the sex, but it seemed for a minute as if we’d returned to that neighborhood. With the Senate now under GOP control, House-passed legislation has a much stronger shot at making it to Obama’s desk. ‘‘Much of the legislation we passed in the past we knew wasn’t going to go anywhere in the Senate; we knew Harry Reid wasn’t going to bring it up for a vote,’’ said North Carolina Representative Renee Ellmers, who led this week’s revolt over the abortion bill. ‘‘Now everything we do has got to be so careful, we have to be so careful about the legislation we put forward, because now we have that opportunity for it to pass in the Senate,’’ Ellmers said. The abortion rate is at “historic lows,” having dropped by 13 percent in the decade between 2002 and 2011, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About half of states allow abortion coverage in marketplace plans — including New Jersey — and under a compromise with Republicans, only private dollars are pulled out of paid premiums to be used for abortions. The main reason is that there are fewer unwanted pregnancies, which suggests logically that if Republicans really want to reduce abortion, what they should do is work to increase access to birth control. Two dozen conservatives voted against House Speaker John Boehner in his leadership election, failing to oust him but boasting historically high defections. Then, as Republicans sought to use a Department of Homeland Security spending bill to oppose executive actions by Obama on immigration, conservatives pushed for language to unravel protections Obama had granted to immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. The amendment on immigrant children passed last week, but it did so by a narrow margin, exposing deep unease among some lawmakers over the direction House Republicans were taking.

Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), warned that taking up legislation just a few weeks into the new Republican majority would revive uncomfortable associations with arch conservatives like former Rep. And probably having more fun than Ellmers. “I’m sorry Clay Aiken lost,” tweeted the conservative blogger Erick Erickson when Republican leaders gave up and pulled the 20-week bill from the calendar. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and others. “The total debacle this week showed what happens when the GOP makes banning abortion their top priority: Women revolt,” said Jessica McIntosh, a spokeswoman for Emily’s List, a pro-abortion rights group that helps steer campaign contributions to Democratic women. To get that far, the bill would have to pass the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to win over enough Democrats to cross the 60-vote threshold, which is highly unlikely.

A contributor on the Red State blog followed up with the somewhat less playful: “Is Renee Ellmers Worthy of Life?” Actually, it turns out that Ellmers is a co-sponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which holds that every fertilized egg has “all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges.” Her concerns about the language of the rape exemption seem to have been a mixture of legal, philosophical and political concerns, all of them nuanced in the extreme. Theoretically, though, any reasonable-sounding anti-abortion measure should at least be able to make it through the House, with its expanded GOP majority. She suggested to National Journal that her party shouldn’t be starting off the year with an issue that wasn’t of interest to “millennials.” Rape exemptions have come to dominate the abortion debate. But even in the context of today’s far-right Republican Party, the “Pain-Capable” bill struck many House members, particularly women, as unreasonable.

This restriction cannot help but bring to mind the grief Republicans suffered in 2012 over Senate candidate Todd Akin’s appalling attempt to distinguish between “legitimate rape” and some other kind of rape. Although the House leadership maintained that all was sweetness and light, reporters heard rumblings Wednesday that the bill was in trouble with moderate Republicans, especially women. Not that anybody’s trying to be that rational. “I’m going to need your help to find a way out of this definitional problem with rape,” Senator Lindsey Graham told the anti-abortion marchers. Arkansas legislators are debating a measure that would require doctors to prescribe abortion-inducing pills to women in person, rather than by video conference.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said there is no legitimate research supporting the idea that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. Tennessee voters last year amended the state constitution to give legislators the power to regulate abortions for the first time, and Republicans will likely pass measures requiring mandatory counseling, a waiting period and stricter inspections of clinics where abortions are performed. Given that the Supreme Court has decided abortion is a legally protected right, the anti-abortion movement has done what it could — made abortions very difficult to obtain in some states where the pro-life position has sufficient support.

Francis has, indeed, been clear and consistent on this matter, despite the moment on a flight back from Manila when he expressed concern about people breeding “like rabbits.” One theologian told CBS News that people should understand that there was a difference between the pope-on-a-plane and the pope-on-the-ground, the latter’s comments being more official. But not all of those laws have withstood legal scrutiny: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in December struck down a 2011 North Carolina law that required doctors to perform ultrasounds and describe sonogram images to women seeking abortions.

Other courts have struck down legislation banning abortions in Arkansas after 12 weeks, and a North Dakota law that could have restricted abortions after as few as six weeks. I just can’t wait for Week 4,” Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania complained to Jeremy Peters of The Times. “This was such a high priority that they didn’t think about it until late last night,” sniped Representative Daniel Kildee, a Michigan Democrat, during the rather lethargic debate.

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