Abortion isn’t going to become illegal anytime soon. But that didn’t stop the House from voting yesterday to ban the practice 20 weeks after conception. It’s hard to imagine a universe where this has any future in the Senate, but the Republican representatives I spoke with on the Hill — with one exception, whom I’ll get to in a bit — concurred that the vote was the right thing to do despite its dim prospects in the upper chamber.
The aides I spoke with on background, however, emphasized a slightly different angle: The abortion vote isn’t so much about attempting a serious policy change as it’s about branding. Late-term abortions are deeply unpopular with the American public, they argue, and voting against them is part of the GOP’s effort to undermine the Democrats’ charge that the party is out of the mainstream on social issues.
“I don’t think this is a conversation we’ll lose,” said one aide. “It underscores the fact that the proponents of late-term abortions under the banner of a person’s rights are so far outside of the mainstream.”
Several other aides told me that the Gosnell trial played a role in House GOP’s decision to move on the bill, but it was an idea that had been on Republicans’ minds long before the Pennsylvania abortion doctor’s sensational trial. The opportunity to tie Democrats to the grisly murderer was too good to pass up.
The congressmen I spoke with didn’t detail any of that rationale. Representative Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) explained his caucus’s motives simply as, “You always have to do what’s right, and we believe that this is right, so I’m glad it’s coming up for a vote. You can’t ignore what you think is a problem just because Harry Reid doesn’t want to deal with it.”
I asked if there was a political advantage to the legislation. “That’s not the driver,” he said.
Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, echoed that sentiment.
“I think it’s important that we make a strong stand in the House,” he said. “Beyond 20 weeks — you’re talking about human life. Science has shown that these are viable on the outside.”
“I think it’s important that we bring the bill up, have a vote on it, make people take a position, and then pressure the Senate to follow suit.”
But not everyone in the Republican conference agreed. Representative Paul Broun (R., Ga.) opposed the legislation because it made an exception for cases of rape and incest. Georgia Right to Life opposed the legislation because of the exceptions, and Broun decided on Monday to follow suit. He’s running for Senate, and the other Georgia primary candidates who are in Congress — Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston — voted for the legislation.
I asked him if he thought the most pro-life position was to oppose the bill.
“I believe that we ought to try to protect the lives of children, and these are children,” he responded.
Dan Becker, from Georgia Right to Life, told me he thought Broun’s decision was courageous.