House Republican leaders withdrew a controversial anti-abortion bill late Wednesday night after a contentious dispute arose over a rape reporting requirement in the measure. In an emergency meeting on Wednesday night, the House Rules Committee pulled the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act from consideration. The measure would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks, except in rare circumstances. Republican infighting developed, as moderate and conservative factions squabbled over language that would prevent rape victims from being eligible for exceptions to the abortion ban, unless they reported their rape to authorities. In the United States, nearly 2/3rds of rapes are not reported to the police.
Insensitivity towards rape victims has been an “Achilles heel” for the Republican Party, especially when the issue of rape intersects with abortion politics. In 2012, Republican Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana, saw their campaigns fall apart over rape apologist rhetoric that left voters shocked and baffled. Todd Akin’s infamous comment, ”if it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down”, sunk his campaign in Missouri. Indiana’s Richard Mourdock did no better when he implied that rape could be a miracle from God. While many Christians may agree that God works in mysterious ways, most draw the line at condoning rape. For that reason, Mourdock’s remark, ”I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that’s something God intended to happen”, didn’t go over well with voters.
Social conservatives hoped to bring the bill to a floor vote on Thursday, the 42nd Anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision. However, party moderates and many female Republicans, raised objections to the rape reporting requirement. Also, arguments arose over a provision that would not permit adult incest victims to obtain an abortion after 20 weeks. The bill may be reintroduced later in the legislative session, but the intra-party revolt has halted its progress. Consequently, a floor vote is not scheduled for the Roe v Wade anniversary date. Instead, a watered-down substitute measure, called the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, will probably be brought to the floor and passed.
The intersection of rape politics and abortion politics is fraught with complexity for Republican lawmakers trying to balance their pro-life credentials with their desire for humane treatment of rape victims. For rigid ideologues like Iowa Congressman Steve King, there is no dilemma. He simply argues rather bluntly, ”I would not make exceptions for rape and incest, and then the reporting requirement would not be necessary.” However, more pragmatic lawmakers often walk the perilous tightrope between placating their staunch anti-abortion backers, and following their conscience with more nuanced views on the issue.
North Carolina Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, for example, spearheaded the revolt against the rape reporting requirement. She and Indiana Congresswoman Jackie Walorski pulled their names off of the bill’s list of co-sponsors during the dispute. Yet, Ellmers herself seemed rather confused about her own position. Late Wednesday night, she reversed course and said she supported the bill. Of course, her flip-flop took place after the right-wing North Carolina Values Coalition referred to her behavior as “traitorous”.
The more dogmatic voices in the pro-life movement will surely condemn the GOP House’s decision to pull the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act from a floor vote on the Roe v Wade Anniversary, in favor of a weaker bill. Principled conservatives may soon find themselves frustrated with the new Republican majority. Even with Republican control of both houses of congress, compromises are still a part of governing.
What passes for the ”moderate wing” of the Republican Party won this battle. Whether they can continue to exert influence on the Tea Party-dominated 114th Congress remains to be seen. However, some GOP lawmakers are already expressing concern with the priorities of the new Congress. Republican Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent, summed up his dismay with the party’s direction with these words:
I prefer that we avoid these very contentious social issues. Week one, we had a speaker election that did not go as well as a lot of us would have liked. Week two, we got into a big fight over deporting children, something that a lot of us didn’t want to have a discussion about. Week three, we are now talking about rape and incest and reportable rapes and incest for minors. … I just can’t wait for week four.
How, the GOP will handle its new responsibility as the majority party in both chambers of Congress remains an open question. However, the party leadership’s inability to shepherd through the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to a floor vote, suggests that the art of governing will not be easy for a potentially fracturing Republican caucus. The battle between pragmatists and ideologues may prove interesting over the next two years.
Image via screengrab
Keith Brekhus is a progressive American who currently resides in Red Lodge, Montana. He is co-host for the Liberal Fix radio show. He holds a Master’s Degree in Sociology from the University of Missouri. In 2002, he ran for Congress as a Green Party candidate in the state of Missouri. In 2014, he worked as a field organizer for Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick’s successful re-election bid in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. He can be followed on Twitter @keithbrekhus or on Facebook.