Thursday, January 22, 2015


I keep trying to wrap my mind around this story. The GOP has gotten away with so much extremism in recent years, so why the sudden concern about this?
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.

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.
Elmers and Walorski voted for the same bill in 2013, and spoke in its favor. But suddenly they're concerned. Why?

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.

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 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.

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.

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.
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?


Victor said...

They balked this time, because there's a Republican majority in the Senate, so, if the Republicans-controlled House passes this, then there's a chance the Senate will, too - and then, they've pissed off millions of women.

It was safe to vote for this misogynistic idiocy when the Republicans in the House knew the Democratic Senate wouldn't also pass it.

Now that there's a chance that it WILL pass, they're afraid of the repercussions!

Ken_L said...

Conservatives cite polls to claim the 20 week ban enjoys better than two thirds support amongst voters. Maybe they think it's actually a vote-winner, and want to postpone it until it can get more publicity.

aimai said...

I looked at the claim that the "20 week ban" enjoysbetter than two thirds support amongst voters. I don't think that was an accurate reflection of the actual polling question though it is what the conservative press is reporting. The legislation is a ban, the polling question referred to "restrictions." There are restrictions right now but unless you want an abortion most americans are really vague on what they are and I can tell you for a fact that many people, men and women, simply assume that abortion is always legally available to good women who need it.

Even the ones who want to limit or end abortion totally don't really mean they want to prevent someone they know who needs one for health reasons from getting it. They just want to prevent poor women, and black women, from "using it for birth control." Most people are completely unaware of how early 20 weeks is in a pregnancy, how small the fetus is, and how little is known about its health at that point in the pregnancy.

Also most people, even those opposed to abortion, don't like to be honest with themselves about the suffering that draconian laws produce. They just handwave that stuff away.

The Republicans in the house were faced with a few key people deciding that if they passed the bill the voters wouldn't be able to handle the results, there would/could be a backlash from people having to actually see what their policies will produce rather than having that hidden from them or put off to a later date.

And the Republicans are well aware of the difference between winning races in gerrymandered congressional districts and winning the race for the presidency.

BKT said...

Or maybe these GOP congresswomen grew consciences and decided it's just wrong to impose unreasonable restrictions on women's Constitutional right to make decisions regarding their own bodies.

Pffffft! I couldn't even type that without rolling my eyes and laughing.