House GOP eyes more anti-abortion votes

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) always seems to be pointing to his right.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) always seems to be pointing to his right.
Associated Press

House Republicans’ laser-like focus on job creation – which is to say, they’ve passed zero jobs bills in three years – is poised to take yet another detour.

The House will vote next week on a bill banning abortions across the country after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that the chamber is on track to consider legislation next week that would ban all abortions after the 20-week threshold – the point at which some medical professionals believe a fetus can begin to feel pain.

The effort started in late April, when Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) started pushing an anti-abortion bill, which he hoped to impose on the residents of the District of Columbia against their will. As we discussed in May, 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 recent murder conviction in Philadelphia, Franks and his allies decided to pursue this as a national policy, to be imposed on all states, constitutional concerns be damned.

It was not immediately clear what House GOP leaders would do about this. On the one hand, they support the party’s culture-war agenda and want to keep far-right, rank-and-file members happy. On the other, the Republican leadership realizes that voters would prefer to see Congress tackle real issues, occasionally even passing meaningful bills that can become law, and more work on pointless anti-abortion legislation undermines the whole “rebranding” idea.

So, would GOP leaders prioritize the culture war, working on yet another abortion bill that can’t pass the Senate and won’t get the president’s signature? Of course they will. In fact, they’re poised to do it more than once.

Franks’ 20-week bill is now poised for a floor vote, but Dorothy Samuels noted yesterday that another anti-abortion provision is on the way, too.

[O]n Thursday, the House passed a Homeland Security Appropriations bill containing a Republican amendment that would go a step beyond the current, restrictive federal policy regarding the ability of women held in immigration detention centers to access abortion services. The extreme provision, which the Senate should firmly reject, could be read to allow an employee with no medical training to decide whether or not a woman’s pregnancy is “life-threatening,” and to grant leeway to refuse to facilitate an abortion even then.

Party leaders are no doubt aware of the GOP’s larger difficulties, including the gender gap, and the fact that younger voters have no use for the party’s right-wing agenda, seeing Republicans as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, [and] old-fashioned.”

But for now, it appears the GOP just can’t help itself.

* Update: My friend Jay Bookman emails to note the Franks bill is arguably even more pernicious than it seems at first blush. The proposal is specifically written to ban abortions in what are called “medically futile pregnancies,” involving fetuses so badly compromised that they have no chance of survival. The bill is intended to force women to carry such pregnancies through to the doomed birth.

Culture Wars and Reproductive Rights

House GOP eyes more anti-abortion votes