The war on women is heating up, and this time around Sen. Marco Rubio is stirring the pot.
The Florida Republican lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential contender is soon expected to introduce a bill in the Senate to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Team Rubio is playing coy, with spokeswoman Brooke Sammon refusing to confirm or comment to msnbc. But anti-abortion groups like the Susan B. Anthony List are insisting--after urging Rubio to sponsor the bill--that he’s interested.
“He’s one of the most articulate folks and has been active on this issue for a long time,” said SBA spokeswoman Mallory Quigley. "His staff has indicated he’s looking at it and he would be making the announcement sometime this week.” According to the Weekly Standard, Rubio has already agreed to become the lead sponsor of the bill. Similar legislation has already passed in the GOP-led House with a 228-196 vote.
While such legislation has little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate (Obama has promised to veto such a bill in any case), political analysts say Rubio is making the move to cozy up to social conservatives ahead of 2016, and extend an olive branch to those on the right he outraged for supporting bipartisan immigration reform.
“If he wants to make a successful run in 2016, Rubio has got to find a way to find even ground with conservatives,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
His backing of the bill that would provide a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants living on the U.S.–contingent on increased border enforcement–Rubio has lost support among his base. A Rasmussen poll shows his popularity among Republicans is sinking. His name recently drew boos at a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill. And conservative shock jock Glenn Beck recently called Rubio a “piece of garbage” for defending the immigration bill.
The federal debate on the abortion ban comes as similar battles are raging in the states. In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is promising the GOP-led legislature will pass a bill that would essentially eliminate nearly every abortion clinic in the state--the bill that was stalled by Wendy Davis' filibuster late last month.
And in North Carolina, the state Senate recently passed a series of anti-abortion amendments, tacked on to a bill that would ban Sharia law, that would impose strict regulations on abortion clinics that critics say would shut down all but one clinic in the state.
O’Connell said if Rubio is interested in winning the Republican nomination, his backing of the bill is a “wise move,” especially because there’s virtually no chance it will be become law. He can go on the record stating he’s in favor of the ban while also having the safety net of it never passing (and therefore not provoking the kind of backlash that it might, if it became law).
"He wants to shore up his conservative base, especially because he's taking some hits on immigration," said Democratic strategist Maria Cardona. "He's doing it in a way that any blowback will be early blowback. He will be able to look back in 2016 and say 'look what I did in 2013' and he won't necessarily have to talk a lot about the issue...He wants to wave the conservative flag again, and this is it for him. It's risky."
Women’s reproductive health is dangerous territory for Republicans, most recently demonstrated by failed Republican Senate candidates Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri who were steamrolled by Dems in 2012 after offensive remarks about rape and abortion.
"It's certainly not a good strategy if you're trying to win the women's vote," said Cardona, noting women make up 53% of the electorate. "It's not a good idea to sign up for social demagoguery issues, especially ones that were such hot button issues in 2012, and ones that were huge losers for the Republican Party."
Sonia Ossorio, president of the National Organization for Women in New York City, added "This is not going to fly with most Americans...[Rubio's] simply trying to pander to his base. And it's unfortunate that legislators like Marco Rubio don't take their voters seriously--thinking they can just play with people's lives, whether that's immigration or women, like they are trading cards."