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Obama Administration Issues Veto Threat of 20-Week Abortion Ban; House Leaders Press Ahead on Vote

Obama Administration Issues Veto Threat of 20-Week Abortion Ban; House Leaders Press Ahead on Vote

January 21, 2015 — The Obama administration on Tuesday issued a formal veto threat of a bill (HR 36) that would ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, the AP/U-T San Diego reports (AP/U-T San Diego, 1/20).

Background

The House is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday, the anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision and the date of the antiabortion-rights March for Life. The measure would allow abortions after 20 weeks only in certain cases of rape and incest, and endangerment to a woman's life. The bill mandates that a rape survivor must formally report the rape to police in order to be able to legally have an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).

Details of Veto Threat

The White House in the veto threat wrote that HR 36 would represent an "assault" on abortion rights and that "unacceptably" infringes on reproductive rights and women's health care (AP/U-T San Diego, 1/20). In addition, the Obama administration said the bill would be a "direct challenge" to Supreme Court rulings on abortion.

The administration wrote, "Not only is the basis for H.R. 36 scientifically disputed, the bill disregards women's health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients' healthcare decisions, and the Constitution. If the president were presented with this legislation, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto this bill" (Ferris, The Hill, 1/20).

Further, the administration expressed concern about the measure's formal reporting requirements for rape survivors. The statement said, "[T]he provision that requires rape and incest survivors to report the crime to a law enforcement agency or child welfare authority in order to have access to an abortion after the 20-week mark demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting. Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement."

House Leaders Refuse To Change Language, Cancel Vote

Meanwhile, House GOP leaders said they will not change the measure's rape survivor reporting requirements and will push forward with a vote Thursday despite concerns, including some raised by conservative lawmakers, Politico reports.

Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.) on Tuesday removed their names from the House bill, and Ellmers is encouraging her colleagues to vote against the measure (Sherman/French, Politico, 1/20).

At least six conservative lawmakers, including Ellmers, expressed concern to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) in a closed-door meeting last week that such a requirement could dissuade survivors from reporting rapes. They had urged Scalise to rewrite the legislation with a broader exemption for cases of rape (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).

However, the measure is still expected to pass the House, according to Politico (Politico, 1/20). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also plans to hold a vote on a 20-week ban sometime in the spring, according to aides and Republican senators. However, the legislation likely will fall short of the necessary votes for passage in the Senate (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/20).

CBO: 20-Week Ban Would Increase Deficit

Separately, the Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday estimated that the House's ban on abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy would increase the deficit by $75 million through 2025, The Hill reports.

For its main estimate, CBO projected that about 75% of abortions that would otherwise occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy would instead take place earlier, while other pregnancies likely would be taken to term. CBO said that under such projections, there would be a $235 million increase in Medicaid spending between 2015 and 2025 and the deficit would increase by $75 million over 10 years.

CBO said that the bill could increase Medicaid spending up to $500 million over the next decade, depending on how many additional births occur. CBO wrote, "If 90 percent of women who would have sought an abortion 20 weeks or more after fertilization instead were to seek earlier abortions, federal spending would rise by about $100 million over 10 years. If only half of those women were to obtain earlier abortions, then federal spending would rise by nearly $500 million over 10 years" (Shabad, The Hill, 1/20).

SOTU, GOP Response Allude to Abortion-Rights Divisions

Both Obama in the State of the Union address and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) in the Republican rebuttal on Tuesday evening touched on their sides' respective positions on abortion rights.

Obama said in his address, "We still may not agree on a woman's right to choose, but surely we can agree it's a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows" (Viebeck, The Hill, 1/20). He continued that there should also be common agreement "that every woman should have access to the health care that she needs" (State of the Union transcript, Washington Post, 1/20).

Ernst in the GOP rebuttal to Obama's address said that Republicans would "defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society" (Viebeck, The Hill, 1/20).