House GOP Looks to Bring Back Late-Term Abortion Bill

Negotiations are underway to change the measure and bring it back to the floor, but there’s no deal yet.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) speaks during a hearing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act before the House Energy and Commerce Committee October 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Developers who helped to build the website for people to buy health insurance under Obamacare testified before the panel on what had gone wrong to cause the technical difficulties in accessing the site. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Daniel Newhauser
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Daniel Newhauser
April 14, 2015, 3:15 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are look­ing to breathe new life in­to an an­ti­abor­tion bill that was pulled from House con­sid­er­a­tion earli­er this year over con­cerns that it was in­sens­it­ive to wo­men who be­come preg­nant as a res­ult of rape.

But find­ing a com­prom­ise will be dif­fi­cult, and in a sign of just how sens­it­ive the is­sue is, two camps in­volved in the ne­go­ti­ations are already on sep­ar­ate pages about what the bill’s re­write will look like.

Many House Re­pub­lic­an wo­men strongly ob­jec­ted to the bill when it came up in Janu­ary over a pro­vi­sion that re­quired wo­men to have re­por­ted a rape to law en­force­ment in or­der to be eli­gible for a late-term abor­tion. Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers’ hand­ling of the bill and their de­cision to pull it from the floor were seen as signs that they were strug­gling to gov­ern their his­tor­ic­ally large ma­jor­ity.

Now, one of the con­gress­wo­men in­stru­ment­al in scut­tling the bill says that she was shown a draft two weeks ago that she could sup­port.

“If it is brought up for a vote, I be­lieve as it stands right now “¦ I am in sup­port of it,” said Rep. Ren­ee Ellmers, chair­wo­man of the Re­pub­lic­an Wo­men’s Policy Com­mit­tee.

Ellmers said that in­stead of a re­quire­ment that rape vic­tims re­port the crime to law en­force­ment, the ver­sion she saw would man­date that the wo­man must in­form the doc­tor per­form­ing the abor­tion that she was raped in or­der to be eli­gible for a late-term abor­tion.

“The de­mand that it be re­por­ted to law en­force­ment was com­pletely un­real­ist­ic and only fur­ther vic­tim­ized the vic­tims of rape, and I think that’s something that we have to be very con­scien­tious about,” Ellmers said.

Ellmers ad­ded that the new lan­guage cla­ri­fies ex­cep­tions in the case of in­cest as well. Pre­vi­ously, the bill al­lowed only minors who were vic­tims of in­cest to be eli­gible for late-term abor­tions. Now, the bill would open up the pro­ced­ure to any wo­men who be­come preg­nant as a res­ult of in­cest, no mat­ter the age, she said.

“In­cest is in­cest. There can’t really be a cutoff age,” Ellmers said. “That was, I thought, not well thought out.” Ellmers said she has not yet spoken with all House Re­pub­lic­an wo­men about the changes, but she hopes to do so soon.

The prob­lem, however, is that the bill’s chief spon­sor said the lan­guage he is craft­ing is not quite what Ellmers de­scribed.

“We con­tin­ue to search for lan­guage that will uni­fy the pro-life base,” Rep. Trent Franks said in a state­ment. “However it is com­pletely pre­ma­ture to say what that fi­nal lan­guage will be. With that said, the draft be­ing dis­cussed now dif­fers in sub­stant­ive ways from” Ellmers’ de­scrip­tion.

Franks and his staff de­clined, however, to spe­cify how his draft is dif­fer­ent.

It is un­clear when the bill will come up, but House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy said on Monday that he is com­mit­ted to bring­ing the bill back to the floor.

The bill was also dis­cussed in a Tues­day morn­ing meet­ing of the Val­ues Ac­tion Team, a group of an­ti­abor­tion le­gis­lat­ors, and mem­bers were left with the dis­tinct im­pres­sion that it would see floor con­sid­er­a­tion this year, ac­cord­ing to Rep. John Flem­ing, the group’s vice chair­man.

Still, it is not yet clear that an­ti­abor­tion out­side groups would ac­cept new lan­guage. The groups had op­posed changes to the bill when it was con­sidered in Janu­ary, which is one of the reas­ons it could not be salvaged at the time. And soften­ing the rape re­port­ing lan­guage could leave the bill too weak for some mem­bers. Flem­ing, for in­stance, said he be­lieves the re­port­ing re­quire­ment should be in the bill. “You leave a huge loop­hole,” he said. “All you’ve got to do is say, ‘I’ve been raped,’ and no ques­tions are asked.”

The bill would in­sti­tute a fed­er­al ban on abor­tions past the 20th week of preg­nancy, with ex­cep­tions for rape, in­cest, and the life of the moth­er, a policy that most House Re­pub­lic­ans do sup­port.

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