About a month ago, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) started pushing a new anti-abortion bill, which he hopes to impose on the residents of the District of Columbia, against their will. The proposal mirrors efforts that have popped up among Republican lawmakers at the state level: abortion would remain legal, but only if pregnancies are terminated within the first 20 weeks.
Following Kermit Gosnell’s murder conviction, Franks now wants to pursue this as a national policy, imposed on all states, constitutional concerns be damned. And while random members of Congress routinely introduce all kinds of bills that will never pass, this one seems to have put House GOP leaders in an awkward position.
If the bill gets a markup and a vote on the House floor, it would surely satisfy conservative members of the rank and file who want the chamber to take a firm stance on the Gosnell conviction and against abortion practices generally.
By this time in the 112th Congress, House Republicans had already made an unequivocal statement that they stand against the practice with the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which passed on a 251-175 vote.
The House’s silence on the issue is notable because of the high-profile nature of the Gosnell trial and also given last week’s vote to repeal Obamacare. GOP leaders argued that the vote was scheduled for the benefit of freshmen who had campaigned on overturning the 2010 health care law and wanted to go on the record against it. In theory, the same argument could apply to abortion.
This is the natural extension of the post-policy thesis we’ve been talking about lately – these House Republicans know Franks’ bill won’t pass, won’t become law, and probably couldn’t withstand court scrutiny anyway, but want a floor vote because they see value in making a “statement.” They could try governing and legislating for a change, but that’s less important than sending “signals” to the party’s far-right activist base.
Of course, there’s also the small matter of the Republicans’ rebranding initiative, and Franks’ bill wouldn’t do that effort any favors, either. For the American mainstream, there’s quite a bit Congress should be working on right now, and legally dubious anti-abortion measures that can’t pass isn’t high on the list.
Indeed, as GOP leaders may recall, the preoccupation with the culture war among House Republicans cost the party dearly in 2012, and made the gender gap even worse.
There’s also the inconvenient issue of dividing a House GOP caucus that’s already splintering.
Republican leaders might want to spare some members the unsavory prospect of taking a vote – and having a lengthy debate on a controversial policy position that has no chance of getting signed into law in this Congress. As members of the party that by and large opposes abortion rights, some moderate GOP lawmakers could be torn between not wanting to alienate influential outside groups that “score” votes on abortion-related bills and their constituents who might see such bills as overreaching.
This could especially be true for Franks’ bill, which would seek to institute in all jurisdictions a ban that has already been instituted in nine states.
What will Boehner and Cantor do about all of this? I have no idea, and right now, it seems they have no idea, either.