As Republicans prepare to restart the national abortion wars by voting on a pre-viability abortion ban in the House Thursday, the Obama administration has made it clear where the president stands: Against it.
"The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 36, which would unacceptably restrict women's health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman's right to choose," the White House said in an official statement. "Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and Government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor." The White House said senior advisors would advise Obama to veto the bill if it came before him, echoing a previous threat.
Thursday is, not coincidentally, the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the day when anti-abortion activists are marching on the National Mall in the annual March for Life, featuring several Republican elected officials. H.R. 36, which bans abortion at 20 weeks on the unscientific (and so far legally irrelevant) claim that fetuses feel pain at that point, passed the House in 2013 but never got a vote in the Senate — which may change now that Republicans control it. About 1% of abortions take place after 20 weeks.
The political strategy of the 20 week ban is clear: Force Democrats to get on the record about later abortions, which poll poorly unless accompanied by information about the difficult circumstances facing women who get them. The legal strategy is also pretty clear: Justice Anthony Kennedy, once a swing vote on abortion, signaled his distaste for later abortions in the last major Supreme Court abortion case, Gonzales v. Carhart. Anti-abortion strategists are hoping to get him to sign onto a 20-week ban with vivid talk of fetal pain, thus undercutting his repeated holding that it's unconstitutional to ban abortion before a fetus can survive outside of the womb. So far, the Supreme Court has declined to hear recent abortion cases before them, including Arizona's 20-week ban, which was held unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Obama administration noted that legal strategy, as well: "H.R. 36 is a direct challenge to the Supreme Court’s holdings on abortion. Not only is the basis for H.R. 36 scientifically disputed, the bill disregards women's health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients' health care decisions, and the Constitution. Furthermore, the provision that requires rape and incest survivors to report the crime to a law enforcement agency or child welfare authority in order to have access to an abortion after the 20-week mark demonstrates a complete disregard for the women who experience sexual assault and the barriers they may face in reporting. Research indicates that the majority of survivors have not reported their sexual assaults to law enforcement."
Several news organizations reported last week that some Republican women, including Rep. Renee Ellmers, had objected to the clause requiring rape survivors to report to the police. But the same provision was in the 2013 version of the bill, which passed with all but six Republican members voting yes, including Elmers.
"The Administration is continuing its efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, expand access to contraception, support maternal and child health, and minimize the need for abortion," the White House continued.
Both of its biggest attempts to expand access to contraception — via both the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act, which mandates insurance coverage without a co-pay for a full range of approved methods, and through the Medicaid expansion, which would bring more people under that coverage — have been hotly opposed by most Republicans.