The House of Representatives was poised to vote on a bill yesterday that would have banned all abortions in the US after the twentieth week of a pregnancy. This was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that overturned laws against abortion in the US. At the last minute, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pulled the bill from the floor. Instead, the House votes later today on a bill that bans federal funding of abortions, which doesn’t really happen anyway. Unlike previous occasions when the Speaker withdrew bills, he had the votes to pass it. The decision to withdraw the bill stems from a suddenly developed sense of political intelligence delivered in large measure by the 22 female members of the GOP House caucus.
The resistance to the bill from many of the female members of the caucus stemmed from two matters, one specific and the other general. The specific issue that upset many of those who voiced opposition to the proposed legislation, according to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, was the “provision in the bill that would provide abortion exemptions to women who had been raped only if they reported the crime to police.”ï¿½ The reluctance of many rape victims to report the crime is well-documented along with plausible reasons for that reluctance. Forcing them to have the child of a rapist or going through the criminal process is an unpalatable choice for many.
However, that provision could have been pulled from the bill without much difficulty. What really sold the Speaker on withdrawing the entire bill was, again from Mr. Cillizza, “The general concern, particularly among female Republican members, that holding a symbolic vote on such a high profile social issue this soon into the 114th Congress would provide fodder for the ‘war on women’ argument Democrats have been advancing against the GOP for the last several elections.”
The Republican base responded as one might expect, taking umbrage at the withdrawal. Tony Perkins, reactionary leader of the Family Research Council, claimed there were “a lot of misconceptions” that lead to the last-minute withdrawal of the bill. “We’re talking about a measure that would limit abortions after five months,” he said stated. “America is only one of four nations that allows abortions throughout the entire pregnancy.” Sadly, for Mr. Perkins, the Supreme Court decision all those years ago said that the important factor was viability of the fetus, which is somewhere between 24 and 28 weeks, leaning toward 28. In short, the 20-week limit is unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, the pro-choice crowd was in the unusual position of having to applaud the GOP House caucus. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, admitted in a statement, “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.”
However, the real message behind this move is neither pro- nor anti-choice. The real news is best summed up in a tweet from Ana Navarro, a Republican consultant based in Florida, “Some r unhappy w/result. But impt to recognize this is game changing & a 1st for GOP women in Cong. Flexed muscle, made leadership listen.”
This is a different House that it was before the election, and Mr. Boehner has more moderates in swing districts in the caucus. If they are prepared to stand up like this, he just might be able to tell the Tea Party to sit down and shut up. If so, this might not be such an awful Congress.