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Conservatives Push Forward on 20-Week Abortion Ban, Despite Controversy

Conservatives Push Forward on 20-Week Abortion Ban, Despite Controversy

January 23, 2015 — Republican congressional leaders still plan to hold a vote this session on a 20-week abortion ban measure (HR 36), with some antiabortion-rights lawmakers saying the bill's language might be changed to increase its chances of passage, the Los Angeles Times reports (Mascaro, Los Angeles Times, 1/22).

House leaders originally planned to vote on the bill on Jan. 22 -- the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision -- but changed course after some conservative lawmakers raised concern about its restrictions on rape survivors seeking abortions and refused to support it.

Instead, the House voted 242-179 to pass a bill (HR 7) that would restrict insurance coverage of abortion. The measure is not expected to pass the Senate, and President Obama has issued a veto threat (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/22). Obama also has said he would veto a 20-week abortion ban (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/21).

Details of Disagreement

HR 36 would allow abortions after 20 weeks only in certain cases of rape and incest, and endangerment to a woman's life. The bill would mandate that a rape survivor formally report the rape to police in order to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

However, several GOP lawmakers raised concern beginning last week that the bill could hurt Republicans politically among young people and distract from the party's message on the economy. Some conservative lawmakers, including Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), have specifically said the bill's requirements for an exemption to the mandate for rape survivors could dissuade women from reporting rape (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/22).

House: Language Might Change

Bill sponsor Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said on Thursday he "has every intention of working to get [HR 36] to pass." He characterized the intent of the rape reporting requirement as a way of enabling prosecution of perpetrators to "put them in jail."

March for Life Education and Defense Fund President Jeanne Monahan said that House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had assured her the bill would get a vote and that her group "plan[s] on meeting with folks late next week" to discuss next steps. She added, "I'm cautious to say we would sign on to the bill without seeing the [new] language, but we are open to any discussion" about how to increase its chances of passage.

Similarly, Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said, "Both the House Leadership and Senator [Lindsey] Graham [R-S.C.]" -- the Senate sponsor -- "have assured us they are not backing down." She said her group has not discussed language changes but is open to the idea (Zanona, CQ Roll Call, 1/22).

However, some other opponents of abortion rights expressed disappointment that the bill's language might change, according to Politico (Wheaton, Politico, 1/22).

Graham: Language Must Change, Pro-Choice Bill Will Also Get Vote

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, Graham said that the bill should not move forward in either chamber if the reporting requirement for rape survivors is not removed (Lesniewski, "#WGDB," Roll Call, 1/22).

Graham said he had not been aware that such language was in the bill (Wheaton, Politico, 1/22). He said, "Somebody in the House put [that] provision in there ... I've been, you know, in criminal law all my life, and the vast majority of women who are raped don't report it, so we're not going to go down that road." He continued, "We're going to fix it."

He also said he plans to hold a vote on the Women's Health Protection Act, saying he is "looking forward to debate" on both that bill and antiabortion-rights legislation this year ("#WGDB," Roll Call, 1/22).

Political Repercussions

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of abortion rights reflected on whether the controversy over the rape reporting provision would have a political effect on the GOP (Wheaton, Politico, 1/22).

Some stakeholders said that the move to pull the 20-week measure from the floor showed that more centrist GOP House lawmakers are gaining clout within the party (Sherman/Bresnahan, Politico, 1/22).

However, NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said on Thursday, "I don't think it's a shift within the GOP. I think it's an awakening for some of them to the actual political reality in this party, which is that voters do not want this to be a focus of the new Congress." She added that the main takeaway is that "this is not what voters want [the GOP] to focus on."

Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens said, "It's encouraging that some politicians are starting to recognize that it is a political vulnerability to attack women's access to abortion and other health care. It would be better if they recognized the real impact that these attacks have on women's lives" (Graves, National Journal, 1/22).

Obama 'Deeply Committed To Protecting' Abortion Rights, Critical of HR 7

In related news, President Obama on Thursday, marking the anniversary of the Roe decision, affirmed that he is "deeply committed to protecting this core constitutional right" of abortion.

He said that Roe is "a decision that protects a woman's freedom to make her own choices about her body and her health, and reaffirms a fundamental American value: that government should not intrude in our most private and personal family matters."

Obama added that "efforts like H.R. 7 ... would intrude on women's reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have today. The federal government should not be injecting itself into decisions best made between women, their families, and their doctors."

Obama also stressed his commitment to decreasing the number of unplanned pregnancies, supporting child and maternal health, promoting adoption, and reducing the need for abortion (Boyer, Washington Times, 1/22).