Proving that its long-planned assault on a women's right to control their own bodies was too contentious even for some of its own members, the Republican majority in the House on Wednesday night withdrew plans to debate a bill that would have banned nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Citing dissent among some female GOP lawmakers and others who acknowledged that the bill would have turned off women voters. The failure of the bill was characterized by some as a political "embarrassment" for the party which for first time in more than eight years now controls both chambers of Congress. Dana Milbank, at the Washington Post, described the attempt to pass the extreme law as a classic case of "bait and switch," in which the party tried to ram through a policy it knows is unpopular with a majority of voters, especially women.
Milbank argued it was "implausible for Republicans to deny that they were doing the bidding of the antiabortion lobby" and cited Douglas Johnson, legislative director at National Right to Life, who explained to reporters in a conference call Wednesday the 20-week ban legislation was "based on a National Right to Life model.”
For reproductive rights advocates the failure of the bill was welcomed—if not as forward victory—at least as relief from a coordinated attack on abortion rights and women's health by the Republican Party. Constrained of power in Washington, DC in recent years, the GOP has taken aggressive action to limit access to reproductive care at the local level, enacting tough restrictions and forcing the closure of clinics in state legislatures where they do hold power.
"These attacks are so dangerous, extreme, and unpopular that House Republicans can't even get their membership lined up behind them," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action told Huffington Post. "This should be an important message to politicians who continue to ignore the majority of the public who want Congress to focus on policies to move women forwards rather than taking them back."
"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," said Ilsye Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement. "The GOP drafted a bill so extreme and so out of touch with the voters that even their own membership could not support it."
According to the Associated Press:
The decision came on the eve of the annual March for Life, when thousands of anti-abortion demonstrators stream to Washington to mark the anniversary of the 1973 supreme court decision that legalized abortion. It also came with GOP leaders eager to show unity and an ability by the new Republican-led Congress to govern efficiently.
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Republican leaders had planned on Thursday House passage of the legislation, which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
But they ran into objections from women and other Republican lawmakers unhappy that the measure limited exemptions for victims of rape or incest to only those who had previously reported those incidents to authorities.
Instead of the 20-week abortion ban, the House will debate a separate bill on Thursday that would make permanent an annual provision that forbids federal dollars from being used to provide funding for abortion services.
In attempt to counter the GOP's anti-choice proposals, Democrats in the House and Senate on Wednesday introduced a measure of their own—called the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2015—which would specifically prohibit states from chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. Put forth by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Tammy Baldwin and Representatives Judy Chu, Lois Frankel, and Marcia Fudge, the bill would "enforce and protect the right of every woman to decide for herself whether to continue or end a pregnancy, regardless of where she lives."
Though it has nearly no chance of passage so long as the Republicans hold the majority, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, championed the legislation as the antidote to the regressive push by GOP lawmakers and their allies to role back constitutional protections for all women.
“Year after year, anti-choice politicians have passed underhanded laws to shut down clinics and block access to essential reproductive health care," Northrup said. "It is critical for Congress to step in to protect the health, dignity, and rights of women across the nation by enacting the Women’s Health Protection Act."
The Women's Health Protection Act, she continued, would "would put an end to this assault on women’s health and personal decisions" and "ensure that every woman in America can exercise her constitutional right to access safe, legal abortion care without interference from the devious tactics of politicians bent on substituting their judgment for hers."
The Women’s Health Protection Act would prohibit state and federal politicians from imposing a range of dangerous, anti-choice provisions, including:
- Targeted restrictions of abortion providers (TRAP), including clinic shutdown laws that single out women’s reproductive health care providers with regulations that grossly exceed what is necessary to ensure high standards of patient safety and quality of care.
- Bans on abortion prior to viability that violate women’s constitutional rights established by Roe v. Wade.
- Restrictions on women’s access to medication abortion, such as requiring physicians to adhere to an outdated and less safe protocol when providing women with this safe and effective method of ending a pregnancy in its earliest weeks.
- State-mandated medical procedures and protocols, such as compelling women to undergo forced ultrasounds for no medical reason and designed to shame women for their personal decisions.