After Republican-appointed justices on the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, much of the policy work related to abortion rights has unfolded at the state level. That trend remains largely unchanged: Just this week, Republican Steve Marshall, Alabama’s state attorney general, said women in his state could face prosecution if they use abortion pills.
But now that there’s a GOP majority in the U.S. House, the action isn't entirely limited to the states.
On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise appeared at a Capitol Hill press conference and falsely claimed that infanticide is currently legal “in some states.” (It is not.) A day later, as The New York Times reported, the new Republican majority got to work tackling the issue with a pair of partisan bills, one of which was especially provocative.
The bill would require that infants born alive after an attempted abortion receive the same protection under the law and degree of care as any newborn, and threaten medical providers with up to five years in prison for failing to resuscitate babies born alive during abortions. Live births during an abortion procedure are exceedingly rare, experts said, and federal law already requires that a baby who survives an attempted abortion receive emergency medical care.
Last year, the National Republican Senatorial Committee advised incumbents and candidates to tell voters, among other things, “Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors ... in jail.” Eight months later, GOP lawmakers approved legislation that could “subject doctors who perform abortions to criminal penalties.”
The bill, labeled the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” passed 220 to 210. Despite recent talk of a “moderate” contingent of House Republicans, the legislation enjoyed the unanimous support of the GOP conference.
The measure stands no chance of becoming law and will be ignored in the Democratic-led Senate. House members knew that. Republicans made it a priority anyway.
Soon after, the new GOP majority also advanced a largely symbolic resolution that condemned attacks on “pro-life facilities, groups and churches.” The measure, which passed 222 to 209, carries no force of law. Like the first bill, Republicans were unanimous in their support of the resolution.
As for the politics, Republican Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina noted ahead of the votes that most voters in her Charleston-area district opposed the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and she questioned whether the House should be picking this fight for now practical reasons.
“It’s tone-deaf at this point. It’s never going to pass the Senate. It’s never going to get to the president’s desk to be signed into law,” Mace told NBC News. “We’re only paying lip service to the pro-life movement. If you want to make a difference and reduce the number of abortions with a Democrat-controlled Senate, the No. 1 issue we should be working on is access to birth control.”
She added, “We have been tone-deaf on this issue since the time that Roe was overturned. We buried our heads in the sand. We didn’t have any policy alternatives. We were not compassionate to both sides of the aisle on this argument.”
Mace proceeded to vote for both of her party’s bills anyway.
The thing to keep in mind is that for much of the GOP’s base, fighting to curtail reproductive rights is its own reward. Last week, just hours before the incoming Republican majority started trying to elect a new House speaker, dozens of far-right opponents of abortion rights began a public pressure campaign, demanding that GOP lawmakers pass new abortion restrictions.
The advocacy groups are aware of the partisan circumstances, and they understand which party controls the Senate and White House. But they nevertheless told their Republican allies to vote on their legislative wish list anyway. As of yesterday, GOP leaders appear to be following suit.
For Democrats, this isn’t exactly bad news: Reproductive rights was a key issue in the 2022 midterms, and by all measures, it worked against Republicans, not for them.
The new GOP majority, in other words, is focusing on an issue on which most voters think the party is wrong. The Republicans’ base wants GOP leaders to keep doing that. Democratic leaders certainly weren’t pleased with yesterday’s bills, but they won’t mind reaping the political benefits.