Over the last week, much has been reported on the surprising last minute change that occurred in the House on January 22, 2015. Taking place the evening before thousands of pro-life activists marched in DC to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the pro-life bill that was set to be voted on the following day was pulled and replaced with a different, less controversial pro-life bill.
How the former bill became controversial at all has been at the center of reports in the wake of the change. In fact, the bill in question, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36), was nearly identical to a previous version (H.R. 1797) that passed the House in 2013. Somehow the same language that was in the 2013 bill completely derailed the 2015 version.
The issue within H.R. 36 had to do with an exception in the bill for rape and incest. Specifically, mandatory reporting language in the bill required women to report rape or incest to authorities before seeking an abortion after 20 weeks gestation. Some members of the House objected to the language, believing that it would put undue pressure on women and put government in charge of defining rape.
When news broke that H.R. 36 would be shelved, supporters of the pro-life issue were outraged. Wrote long time pro-life activist Jill Stanek, ”…it was beyond the scope of my imagination to think GOP House leadership could be so traitorous, weak, and stupid as to pull a publicly supported landmark pro-life bill they’d publicly promised to sign the following day…” At RedState, Editor-in-Chief Erick Erickson declared pro-lifers, the “whores of the Republican party.” Erickson also stated:
This was virtually the same legislation passed in 2013 when they did not raise these objections and they did not get attacked on the campaign trail. Multiple pro-life groups all told me that Ellmers had made no effort to work with them on changes. She decided she would handle it and in the process scuttled it.
At the same time the news made public H.R. 36’s demise, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) became the face of the fall. Merely weeks before the mishap, Ellmers was reported to have expressed concerns with the bill at the House and Senate Republican retreat. On January 16, the National Journal reported:
In a closed-door open-mic session of House Republicans, Rep. Renee Ellmers spoke out against bringing up the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, telling the conference that she believes the bill will cost the party support among millennials, according to several sources in the room.
Not noted in the National Journal report, according to an aide close to the Congresswoman, were the names of three other women who stood with Ellmers in the meeting. Ellmers herself claims to have supported the bill as it was originally written, with no exceptions, and also had concerns. GOP women had spoken previously with Ellmers about the mandatory reporting language in the bill and as chairman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, said the aide, Ellmers felt it her duty to address the issue. Additionally, the women had taken their concerns to House leadership well before the retreat. Ellmers subsequently removed her name from co-sponsorship, said her aide, due to the fluid situation and not knowing what the final result of the bill would be when it arrived on the floor. According to her office, she was not notified that the bill was pulled until an email was sent out at 9pm eastern Wednesday.
Speaking the next morning to reporters, Ellmers stated it was, “unfortunate the way it played out.” “The whole point of this is to make this bill stronger,” she said. However, in the wake of the event, it would appear the damage has been done. Rumors of a primary challenge against Ellmers have already begun and at least one pro-life group is calling for all the men and women involved in sidetracking the bill to be defeated in 2016. The national media as well as pro-abortion activists have latched onto the event as evidence that the GOP is too extreme even for their own members. Summed up by MSNBC:
Pro-choice organizations couldn’t hide their glee. “I never thought I would see the day that the Tea Party-led House of Representatives would wake up to the fact that their priorities—outright abortion bans–are way out of touch with the American people. The GOP drafted a bill so extreme and so out of touch with the voters that even their own membership could not support,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue. And Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said, “These attacks are so dangerous, extreme, and unpopular that House Republicans can’t even get their membership lined up behind them.”
For her part, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who introduced H.R. 36 with Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), would like the focus to return to the original goal. Speaking with RedState, Blackburn stated:
“My goal is to get the bill to the point that it can pass the House and the Senate, be signed into law and stand the test of time. I want to make sure that the focus of the bill returns to talking about protecting unborn babies and that we keep that as our focus.”
Speaking to what derailed the bill, Blackburn added:
We had been made aware that the Senate had concerns and that there would be a move to change the language. So, knowing that, for those of us who are committed to this legislation, knowing that it was appropriate to raise that to be sure the leadership, the sponsor and committee chair were aware of that. It would be inappropriate to not make them aware.
And the other thing that we were so aware of is the good work that is being done for the cause of life in the states. And we did not want to push a bill forward that people were beginning to express some concerns over a few lines of the wording, we did not want to make a mistake that would end up harming some of the fabulous work that is being done in our states for the cause of life.
Blackburn confirmed that she “stands with the traditional Hyde language,” which is in line with the Republican Party platform.
As for why the 2013 version of the bill was passed without the current level of debate, it would appear it was the way the bill was handled prior to passage. Originally written with no exceptions to abortions being prohibited after 20 weeks, the Hyde amendment (excepting rape and incest) and mandatory reporting language were added into the bill 3 hours before the vote. Then, under the House rules introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the House was given one hour to discuss the bill before voting.
House members have said they are committed to bringing the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act back for a vote, but, according to a memo released Thursday, it will not be next month.