Skip to content
Breaking News Alert This Week In Lawfare Land: 'Deadly Force'

Why Everyone Should Be Terrified By The GOP’s Abortion Bill Debacle


Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court legalizing abortion on demand throughout pregnancy. The pro-life movement commemorates this day with marches, worship services and lobbying for bills to protect unborn children. Pro-lifers were promised by the Republican leaders they just helped elect and re-elect that the House of Representatives would pass a bill today banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a point after which infants can feel pain and survive if born prematurely.

The legislation has been passed by the House in the previous Congress and is extremely popular in national polling. “One of the clearest messages from Gallup trends,” the polling firm reported, “is that Americans oppose late-term abortion.” A Washington Post/ABC survey showed that 64 percent of Americans favor limiting abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy or earlier. When just women were asked, the figure jumped to 71 percent. Such measures are popular among independents and Americans of various income levels.

Quinnipiac even asked detailed questions about the bill last go-around:

As you may know, in 2013 the House of Representatives approved legislation that would ban virtually all abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest that are reported to authorities. Would you support or oppose such legislation?

Sixty percent of voters said they would support it, while 33 percent said they were opposed. Even Democrats were evenly divided (46 percent to 47 percent) on the question. We’re one of just a small handful of countries, including notorious human rights violators North Korea and China, that allow late-term abortion.

And yet somehow the Republicans managed to make a disaster of passing the bill. Instead of passing the legislation and sending it to the Republican-controlled Senate, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was pulled at the last minute and replaced with a bill that bans taxpayer funding of abortion.

What in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks just happened? It takes a special combination of incompetence and cowardice to miss an easy lay-up like this, but apparently the new Republican Congress has it in spades.

Even if you’re not one of the majority of Americans who want to protect these children in the womb, this debacle should concern you. Here are a few reasons why.

They don’t have the cojones to fight.

If Republicans can’t pass wildly popular legislation protecting innocent unborn children, what’s going to happen when they face difficult legislative battles? It’s best to view this as a very simple test for House Republicans. A test they failed miserably.

In an essay at National Affairs, Michael Needham looks at the contrast between the grassroots and party establishment. He talks about the fight over the reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, a fund for corporate welfare. The establishment fought against the grassroots tooth and nail in order to keep the bank. There have been similar fights over agriculture subsidies and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s influence in the housing market. The moneyed interests fight against the conservative insurgents — and the donor class usually wins. Needham asks:

Given the enormous challenges facing the nation, why bother with "small" issues like corporate welfare and concomitant insider politics? Why pick these fights with the donor base? As the Tea Party sees it, if conservatives can't stand up for sound policy on "easy" fights like these — despite their relative insignificance compared to issues like entitlement reform — the Republican Party is unlikely to have the fortitude to take on the greatest challenges the country faces. More importantly, any party that contemplates cutting back welfare for needy individuals and families but embraces corporate welfare for the powerful lacks the moral authority to urge sacrifice of any sort.

Exactly. How will the Republicans lead the battle to fight against Obamacare if they’re not willing to go against the insurance lobby on even a small issue? Whether the issue is a legitimate campaign against the dehumanization of the unborn, higher education reform or an actual attempt to thwart the growth of the administrative state, a Republican Party unable to accomplish an easy task is a Republican Party that will be completely incompetent and worse than useless in a big battle.

Sabotaging entire movements for nothing

Two of the representatives who caused the biggest stink about the bill were Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Jackie Walorski of Indiana. Last week, Ellmers said she didn’t think it was a good idea to vote on the legislation so early in the session (an argument that makes no sense, but let’s put that aside). Yesterday the women pulled their sponsorship of the bill over what they said were concerns over the rape reporting requirement. And yet here are both women speaking in favor of this exact same legislation two years ago:

These women are claiming to all of a sudden be concerned about the reporting requirement — the requirement that has nearly two-to-one support among voters and the one they had no problem with just a couple of years ago. This reporting requirement would keep late-term abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell or Leroy Carhart from simply checking a box before going ahead with the procedure. Besides, it’s one thing to seek an exception to abortion laws for victims of rape, and entirely another to think that exception must be extended until the baby exits the birth canal. This bill wouldn’t have a reporting requirement for abortions in the first five months of pregnancy.

In fact, even Democrats who think late-term abortion should be legal with no restrictions didn’t make an issue of the reporting requirement in the last two elections. Last year, support for late-term abortion hurt Democratic candidates. But now Ellmers created a controversy where none existed, hereby handing Democrats a way to fight a broadly popular bill.

This sabotage of the pro-life movement over what may have been a power struggle happens at a time when many pro-life activists have grown weary of being used by the GOP for electoral victory only to be forgotten weeks later when it’s time to vote.

Pro-lifers aren’t unfamiliar with such betrayals but as more and more grassroots voters are learning that the Republican Party is loyal to corporate interests when it counts while giving weak lipservice to the base when it doesn’t, the rift widens.

They have zero public relations skills.

It’s not news to anyone that our media are supportive of abortion rights and biased against those who support the rights of the unborn. The media carry quite a bit of water for the pro-choice movement. So, for example, we didn’t see any articles about how radical and extreme — relative to popular opinion — opposition to the bill is. But as soon as Ellmers pulled her stunt, here were the headlines:

National Journal: GOP Leaders Pull Abortion Bill After Revolt by Women, Moderates

Washington Post: Abortion bill dropped amid concerns of female GOP lawmakers

MSNBC: GOP women reject abortion bill, end debate

CNN: House GOP leaders cave on abortion bill

Politico: GOP stumbles over abortion bill

Huffington Post: GOP Congresswomen Get Cold Feet On Anti-Abortion Bill

As the kids used to say, “Smooth move, Ex-Lax. What are you going to do for an encore? Gargle peanut butter?” (NB: This made us laugh in the 1980s. I can’t explain.)

But seriously, it’s one thing to have to fight a hostile media that loves abortion. It’s entirely another to score a deciding own goal against a weak opponent.

Only Republicans could take a bill with two-to-one support and manufacture headlines about it being controversial and opposed by women.

As a bonus, these stories include reports that Ellmers was worried about how the bill would play among women and millennials.

Newsflash to the geniuses in her policy shop: there are few issues the Republicans can have with as much support, much less as much passionate support. If you’re cowering in fear on popular stuff, what are you going to do when the going gets tough?

They have no strategy for everything that needs to be accomplished.

It’s hard to tell exactly what caused the breakdown but it’s easy to see the leadership had no coherent strategy for passing this legislation. I don’t care if the folks who fought the bill at the last minute were inventing excuses, had completely legitimate grievances, or were just bored. At some point, it’s the job of leadership to not have hugely embarrassing debacles that destroy goodwill between key constituents and lawmakers. At some point leadership shouldn’t reveal to the world that it couldn’t organize a shoe closet.

The job of leadership is to make sure disasters like this don’t happen. If they let it happen on easy legislation that is broadly popular (outside of American newsrooms, at least), what are they going to do when they need to really whip a vote on something unpopular in member districts?

If leadership isn’t giving female legislators the authority and influence they seek on this issue, rectify that. But everyone needs to get their act together and to get it together quickly. If this really was just a completely botched power play at the expense of unborn children and their supporters, the people responsible should pay consequences. Names should top a short list of incompetent politicians who should be kindly asked not to run for any office ever again. Those on the short list should be given the full understanding that failure to heed this warning will result in a vigorous primary fight.

The leadership needs to fix their internal and external communications and do some remedial training for members who need basic advice such as, “do not shoot yourself in the foot,” and “do not needlessly anger the one group of Americans not livid with us at the moment.” Maybe even, “learn how to do a power play that doesn’t take down your whole party with you.”

As my colleague David Harsanyi has noted, we have a Republican Congress that doesn’t believe it’s competent enough to make a case against infanticide. That’s bad news for unborn children and their mothers. And it’s bad for everyone else, too.

After supporting an identical bill last Congress, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) brazenly flip-flopp… in The Federalist Polls on LockerDome