House Leadership Should Thank GOP Women for Thwarting Anti-Abortion Bill

From a political standpoint, the legislation was baffling.


Rep. Renee Ellmers/Facebook

Whether it was conviction or politics that led House Republican women to object, the party's leadership should probably be thankful that they stopped the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" from hitting the House floor yesterday. From a political standpoint, the legislation—which would have banned abortion after 5 months pregnancy—was baffling. After a midterm election spent making Democrat's "GOP War on Women" rhetoric look a little silly, one of the first things Republicans do in the new Congress is introduce federal abortion restrictions? And on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade at that? That's just spiteful. It's exactly the kind of thing that makes popular ideas about the party being anti-woman seem true. 

The reason Republican women* (and a few men) gave for objecting to the measure was a provision excepting rape victims from the ban only if the rape was reported to police. That this was the snafu shows the utter hypocrisy of current anti-abortion politics; either a fetus is something that deserves the full legal protections of children and adults or it is not, and if you think it is, then dismissing these rights in some instances just shows cowardice. But almost everyone was cool with exempting rape victims, there was just controvery over what hoops they should have to jump though. 

"I'm pro-life," Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Florida) told reporters. But "I'm certainly not going to ever put myself in the position where I'm telling any woman that their account of a rape is valid or not." It's a smart quote with a fundamentally flawed premise. 

But let's look beyond women for a moment. As Peter Suderman has detailed eloquently here before, the GOP looks like a party that is out of ideas. (So do the Democrats, but that's a whole other story.) It's turning off young people like hotcakes, to use an expression that probably still seems hip to many in the party. Everyone know what it's against, but nobody knows what it is for, except for maybe war (and what is that good for? zing!). Nobody expects the Republican Party to unilaterally drop older-conservative red meat like making sure women, gays, and immigrants never enjoy quite as much personal liberty as heterosexuals, whites, and men. But that's a political agenda with somewhat diminishing appeal. Sometimes I'm foolish enough to imagine that maybe, just to hedge their bets, Republicans might want to also lead the way on things like alternative visions of health care or criminal justice reform or goddamn, any number of wacky ideas Democrats aren't—decreasing small-business regulation! letting farmers grow hemp! dealing with Social Security!—instead of endlessly making a big show about restricting women's bodily autonomy.

"This appeared to be messaging bill, and the message that was being sent was not a very good one," said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.), who helped block the bill. "I would prefer that our party spent less time focusing on these very contentious social issues, because that distracts us from broader economic messages where I think we have much greater appeal to the larger public."

Pragmatism and practical change over extremism and demagoguery? Dent must not be too popular on the Hill. But maybe that's changing? Politico writers suggest "the party's extreme right wing .. is losing relevance at the same time some of the moderates are regaining long-lost gall." 

In lieu of the 5-month limit on legal abortion, House Republicans introduced a bill which would prohibit people receiving federal tax credits toward their health insurance or buying plans through Obamacare exchanges from purchasing coverage for abortion services. The measure passed 242-179, largely down party lines. Rep. Richard Hanna (N.Y.) was the only Republican who voted against it, according to The Hill, while three Democrats—Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas), Dan Lipinski (Ill.) and Collin Peterson (Minn.)—voted for it. "The new legislation doesn't stand a chance to become law," writes Politico's Jake Sherman, "but House Republican leadership want(ed) to have some sort of pro-life bill on the floor Thursday when the anti-abortion March for Life (came) to Washington." 

* Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) led the bloc opposed to the bill.