House Republicans drop debate on abortion bill
Abortion Vote Canceled After Republican In-Fighting Over 20-Week Ban.
FILE – In this Jan. 16, 2015 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington. WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an antiabortion 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.WASHINGTON In an embarrassing setback, House Republicans abruptly decided Wednesday to drop planned debate of a bill criminalizing virtually all late-term abortions after objections from GOP women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.
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. The failure of the bill, which was intended to be Congress’ first anti-abortion legislation of the new session, reflects divides in the GOP just weeks after it assumed control of both houses for the first time in eight years. The decision came on the eve of the annual March for Life, when thousands of abortion rights opponents stream to Washington to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Buoyed by conservative gains in the November 2014 election, the anti-abortion movement is busy mobilizing on behalf of bills in Congress and several state legislatures that would further curtail women’s access to the procedure. 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. Republicans are split among those who want to take a hard line on social issues and those who want to appeal to centrist voters and women. “We should not be looking back into history,” said Representative Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, one of the Republican women who objected to a ban after 20 weeks. “We should be looking forward.” After Republicans described their plans on the abortion legislation during a Rules Committee meeting on Wednesday night, Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, a member of the panel, described a “meltdown” among Republicans.
The measure “is only delayed — it will be up on the floor soon,” said Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, explaining the change during the rules panel meeting. In a complication GOP leaders were not able to resolve, they then ran into objections from groups and lawmakers opposing abortion rights when they discussed eliminating the reporting requirements.
The House will vote instead on a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions — a more innocuous antiabortion measure that the Republican-controlled chamber has passed before. The failed bill, which reflected the idea that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, would have criminalized virtually all abortions for pregnancies of 20 weeks or longer. That is because there are now more moderate Republicans from swing districts who could face tough reelections in 2016 when more Democratic and independent voters are expected to vote in the presidential election. It also came with GOP leaders eager to showcase the ability by the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently and avoid gridlock. “I don’t see it as a failure.
Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, the bill’s lead sponsor, had predicted Wednesday that his proposal would easily pass because it ‘‘has overwhelming support among the American people.’’ A 2013 Justice Department report calculated that just 35 percent of rapes and sexual assaults were reported to police. “The issue becomes, we’re questioning the woman’s word,” Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., said earlier Wednesday. “We have to be compassionate to women when they’re in a crisis situation.” There was concern that the bill would have looked bad for the Republican Party as it struggles to court female voters in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections, and primary and general election candidates could have turned the vote around on the Republicans. Notable among them is a first-of-its-kind measure being drafted in Kansas, with the backing of the National Right to Life Committee, which would ban doctors from using forceps, tongs or other medical implements to dismember a living fetus in the womb to complete an abortion.
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, expressed disappointment that “a handful” of lawmakers had forced a delay in the late-term abortion restrictions but added, “We applaud the leadership for remaining committed to advancing pro-life legislation.” Congressional Democrats who solidly oppose the legislation, along with abortion-rights advocates, all but mocked the GOP’s problem. Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of a House caucus of self-described centrists, said the age limit for the exemption was “unreasonable.” So intense were some of the discussions during a private meeting among House Republicans Wednesday that staff members were told to leave so lawmakers could talk privately, Dent said in an interview. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., a chief sponsor of the 20-week bill, called it “a sincere effort” to protect women and “their unborn, pain-capable child from the atrocity of late-term abortion.” He had also said GOP leaders “want to try to create as much unity as we can.” “This is not only insulting to the women of this country, but it’s just another pointless exercise in political posturing,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. “It will never become law.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a brief interview earlier Wednesday that he believed the House would debate the bill as planned.
— A bill in Missouri that would require pregnant women to get permission from the fathers before having abortions, except in cases of rape and incest. And they didn’t want to push anti-abortion legislation through the House that was opposed by GOP women, especially as the party tries appealing to more female voters ahead of the 2016 elections. — Several anti-abortion measures are expected in Tennessee, where voters in November overturned a court ruling holding that abortion was protected by the state constitution as part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy.
Yet when the leaders considered eliminating the requirement that rapes and incest be previously reported, they encountered objections from anti-abortion groups, Republican aides said. Activists on both sides of the issue suggest there might be fewer such bills winning approval this year, in part because some conservative states already have adopted the most common restrictive laws and in part because of political caution by GOP leaders in swing states. “There are some politicians who’d rather not take a position on any controversial issue, especially when they’re looking for higher office,” said Spaulding Balch. As is customary, the days leading up to Jan. 22 have featured numerous abortion-related events, including statehouse rallies in several states, news conferences by leading activists and the release of advocacy groups’ state-by-state report cards.
California and Washington state were the only states getting A-plusses from the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, while Louisiana, Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma got the highest scores from Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. But Democrats touted arguments by doctors’ groups like the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which have cited research indicating that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester, which starts around the 28th week.
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