House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion 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.Elmers and Walorski voted for the same bill in 2013, and spoke in its favor. But suddenly they're concerned. Why?
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. 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.
A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life....
But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.
What's supposed to be the problem is that this bill attempts to define (to use a now-famous phrase) "legitimate rape":
... many female lawmakers were also furious over its clause stating that women can be exempt from the ban in cases of rape only if they reported the rape to authorities....Here's why that's a problem, according to the objecting legislators:
The Justice Department estimates that nearly 70 percent of rapes go unreported, oftentimes due to victims' fear of retribution. Reps. Renee Ellmers (N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.), among other GOP lawmakers, argued the bill could hurt the GOP with women and young voters.These Republican women threatened to vote on a Democratic amendment altering the bill:
One conservative lawmaker told The Hill that a key factor in deciding to pull the original 20-week bill was that Republicans might not have had the votes to defeat a Democratic motion to recommit that would have returned the legislation to committee for additional changes.But if the language wasn't a problem for Republicans in 2013, including the Republican women who are objecting now, then this brouhaha had nothing to do with principle and was just an effort to position the GOP as the non-Todd Akin party, in advance of the 2016 elections.
Democrats threatened to use the routine procedural vote before final passage to strip out the rape reporting language, and all but one female Republican told leadership they would support it, one lawmaker said.
But -- and I'm being purely cynical here -- why do any Republicans think that's necessary early in 2015? Republicans have done really well in congressional races since 2010. Yes, candidates such as Todd Akin have lost races, but Republicans who haven't said outrageously extremist things have been unaffected by talk of "legitimate rape" and the like by Republicans such as Akin. Also, the experience of candidates like Joni Ernst suggests that Republicans can pretty much do and say anything they want before a campaign gets under way and there'll be no consequence to them or the party. That may not be true for presidential candidates, but there aren't any potential GOP presidential nominees in the House.
The GOP could have passed this bill and most Americans wouldn't even notice; the president would have vetoed it and it would have slipped down the memory hole. I'd suspect that the entire kerfuffle was for show if not for the fact that every story I've read describes it as an unexpected meltdown on the part of the GOP, driven by a sincere and unexpected rebellion on the part of Ellmers et al.
Meanwhile, the House instead passed a bill to block federal funding of abortion, a bill that extends the ban to private health insurance. Is that bill noticeably less extreme than the one that was tabled? Also, the House leadership says that the tabled bill will be brought back. So what was this all about?
Chris Cillizza thinks scuttling the bill was a shrewd move by the GOP:
An anecdote relayed to me by a very conservative Republican consultant a few years back still sticks with me.... In 2012, Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin lost their races for Senate at least in part due to their unwillingness or inability to affirm their pro-life credentials and then move on to issues people were more concerned about in that election. (Both men rambled into a discussion of rape and whether women can get pregnant from it.) Two years earlier, Pat Toomey, running for the Senate in Pennsylvania, would make clear to anyone who asked that he was pro-life but would then quickly pivot to talking about jobs, the economy or President Obama. Toomey won.But the original plan was to vote for this 20-week ban and then (presumably) pivot to other subjects. It would be nice to think that voters would have punished the party for the vote, but they probably wouldn't have -- there'd have been a vote, then a pivot, and the vote would have been forgotten. Now we just see the GOP obsessing over abortion, the exact opposite of a quick pivot. Why didn't Republicans just go with the bill, given how likely they'd have been to get away with it?
The point of the story, according to the consultant, was that Toomey understood that steering conversations -- and voters' perceptions -- away from troublesome areas and onto stronger ground isn't an abandonment of principles. It's smart politics. It didn't make Toomey any less pro-life to affirm his beliefs and then carefully avoid being caught in the thicket of other social issues questions. And, it, inarguably, helped him win in a Democratic leaning state.