How the GOP Fixed the Late-Term Abortion Bill

Republican women got the bill pulled from the House floor the first time around, and they were instrumental in bringing it back.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 05: U.S. House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) listens during a briefing March 5, 2014 at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee in Washington, DC. House Republicans briefed members of the media after a closed conference meeting.
National Journal
Lauren Fox and Daniel Newhauser
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Lauren Fox and Daniel Newhauser
May 12, 2015, 5:56 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers did something al­most un­heard of Tues­day night: They whipped an abor­tion bill.

In a move that is usu­ally ta­boo on so-called votes of con­science, the House Re­pub­lic­an whip team circled the House floor dur­ing votes Tues­day even­ing, test­ing sup­port for a con­tro­ver­sial bill that aims to ban late-term abor­tions—though they were care­ful not to call it a whip op­er­a­tion.

The ef­fort shows just how care­fully GOP lead­ers are tread­ing. They are not tak­ing any chances after the bill was em­bar­rass­ingly pulled from floor con­sid­er­a­tion in Janu­ary on the an­niversary of the Roe v. Wade Su­preme Court de­cision over con­cerns from GOP wo­men and mod­er­ates that it was in­sens­it­ive to wo­men who be­come preg­nant as a res­ult of rape.

(RE­LATED: A Look at Late-Term Abor­tion Re­stric­tions, State by State

The Pain-Cap­able Un­born Child Pro­tec­tion Act will see a House vote Wed­nes­day, after the Rules Com­mit­tee late Tues­day night tacked on an amend­ment brokered by GOP mem­bers and out­side an­ti­abor­tion groups. Sources close to lead­er­ship were con­fid­ent that the amend­ment, which strikes a con­tro­ver­sial rape-re­port­ing re­quire­ment and re­places it with a 48-hour wait­ing peri­od, would smooth over con­cerns and glide the bill to pas­sage.

The bill was pulled the first time be­cause Re­pub­lic­an wo­men ex­pressed strong con­cerns, and this time they were in­stru­ment­al in broker­ing the new lan­guage. Act­ing as a go-between for mem­bers was Con­fer­ence Chair­wo­man Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, who prom­ised an­ti­abor­tion ad­voc­ates at a rally out­side the Cap­it­ol the same day the bill was pulled that it would be re­con­sidered. She held the ini­tial meet­ings with out­side groups soon after the bill was pulled in an ef­fort to rees­tab­lish trust with many who were frus­trated that lead­er­ship had made their de­cision.

“She was deeply ded­ic­ated to the pro-life cause, but the people who were on both sides of the in­tern­al con­flict have a great deal of con­fid­ence and trust in her,” said Rep. Trent Franks, the ori­gin­al spon­sor of the bill. “She was an ir­re­place­able factor.”

(RE­LATED: HHS Says All Meth­ods of Birth Con­trol Must Be Covered

Rep. Di­ane Black—a nurse—was in­stru­ment­al in ne­go­ti­at­ing a fi­nal deal that helped find the middle ground between a rape-re­port­ing re­quire­ment and no re­port­ing re­quire­ment at all. Un­der the new ver­sion of the bill, wo­men who are seek­ing late-term abor­tions from a preg­nancy con­ceived through rape have to ac­cess med­ic­al help or coun­sel­ing 48 hours pri­or to re­ceiv­ing the pro­ced­ure, and the onus is on the phys­i­cian to en­sure that it hap­pens. Franks de­scribed Black’s pro­pos­al as a “turn­ing point” in the ne­go­ti­ations, which had been drag­ging on since the bill fell apart on the floor earli­er this year. Franks said Black per­son­ally ap­proached him in the cloak­room just a few weeks ago.

“I would have voted for the bill with no ex­cep­tions. I’m a no-ex­cep­tions per­son. But there were le­git­im­ate con­cerns,” Black said in an in­ter­view Tues­day. “We re­cog­nize that if a wo­man has a vi­ol­ent act such as rape, we need to be com­pas­sion­ate.”

In some ways, be­ing able to re­sur­rect a bill re­stored trust in lead­er­ship among con­ser­vat­ives such as Franks. He cred­ited lead­er­ship for not back­ing down from their com­mit­ment to get the bill passed out of the House, even as it stands very little chance of ever passing in the Sen­ate—not to men­tion ever be­ing signed by the pres­id­ent.

(RE­LATED: The Con­ser­vat­ive An­swer to Fem­in­ism

“He made a prom­ise and he kept it, and that around here is gold,” Franks said of Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy.

Oth­er wo­men who once spoke out against the ori­gin­al 20-week abor­tion ban be­cause of the rape re­quire­ment said they were much more com­fort­able with the bill now.

“What had been an abor­tion bill had be­come a rape bill,” said Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Cyn­thia Lum­mis. “I be­lieve this bill ad­dresses that. My early con­cerns are al­le­vi­ated.”

While lead­ers were forced to pull the abor­tion bill from the floor be­fore the an­niversary of Roe v. Wade, the new le­gis­la­tion will be voted on dur­ing an­oth­er sig­ni­fic­ant an­niversary: two years to the day that former abor­tion phys­i­cian Ker­mit Gos­nell was con­victed for con­duct­ing il­leg­al late-term abor­tions, in­clud­ing killing at least three live-born ba­bies.

In a nod to out­side groups who wanted to see more pro­tec­tions for un­born ba­bies, the new­est ver­sion of the bill also re­quires that a second phys­i­cian be in the room at the time of the pro­ced­ure if there is any in­dic­a­tion that the fetus could sur­vive. It also in­cludes pro­vi­sions deal­ing with in­fants born alive dur­ing an abor­tion pro­ced­ure, an in­formed con­sent form for wo­men seek­ing late-term abor­tions, and a right of civil ac­tion against abor­tion pro­viders who do not fol­low the law.

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