In GOP abortion bills, DeGette, Pelosi see opportunity to rally public opinion

Colorado U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that the series of Republican anti-abortion bills introduced in the House this month presents pro-choice lawmakers with an opportunity to shed light on the motivations driving such bills. They said that, given the facts, the mainstream American public and complacent lawmakers will not only rally against these specific bills but also more readily stand guard against similar future efforts to cut back on women’s rights.

The GOP bills– three of them at last count– would appear to have little chance of passing the Democratic majority in the Senate and even less chance of escaping a veto from the president.

On a conference call with reporters, though, Pro-Choice Caucus leader DeGette focused on the rhetoric around the bills, which she said has so far been shaped largely by the Republicans sponsoring them. She said reporters keep writing that the bills are about cutting federal funding. That’s only true up to a point, she said, and it’s mostly a smoke screen.

“They want to take this much further out. These bills are really about limiting women’s rights to reproductive care.”

Reproductive care, beyond access to abortion, includes at very least providing counseling on sexual health and pregnancy and providing access to birth control that prevents pregnancy and defends against sexually transmitted diseases. It also means providing regular medical checkups that screen for diseases like HIV and breast and cervical cancer and that also ward off the onset or limit the advancement of other conditions that might reduce fertility.

DeGette is gearing up for debate as soon as next week, for example, on the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act put forward by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence. Title X provides federal money for family planning.

In a recent op-ed, Pence wrote that he “applauds some of the important work that takes place under the banner of Title X.” He mentions disease prevention as an example but not birth control. His bill seeks to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood, one of the nation’s largest reproductive health care providers, because the organization provides abortions. Pence concedes that Planned Parenthood doesn’t use any federal money to pay directly for abortions but he says supporting even the “operational costs” of the organization promotes the “abortion industry.”

DeGette and Pelosi said the American people won’t be fooled by this kind of rhetoric.

“We’ll have a family planning vote probably next week– that will be a vote on access to contraception,” Pelosi said, referring to Pence’s bill. “But for [the Republicans supporting these bills], sex is only about procreation…. They don’t believe in family planning. They won’t say that, [because] it would look ridiculous to the American public. Instead, [they’ll deliver] a character assassination on Planned Parenthood.”

Indeed, the pro-life advocacy group Susan B Anthony List sent out an email blast Thursday referencing anti-Planned Parenthood videos made by a group led by pro-life activist Lila Rose and posted this past week at conservative blogs. The videos have been mostly discredited in the mediasphere outside of Fox News and activist pro-life circles.

“I need you to help me flood Congress with phone calls for National Pro-Life Lobby Day to Defund Planned Parenthood…. Now is the time,” wrote Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the SBA List. “Ask your Representative to support Rep. Mike Pence’s Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act to defund Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of Title X funding.”

DeGette and the 150-member pro-Choice Caucus and its allies intend to daylight this kind of conversation.

DeGette told the Colorado Independent that although the Pro-Choice Caucus has been working hard for years against attacks on women’s reproductive rights, the public perception is mostly that there are no real threats to these long-established rights. A priority going forward, she said, is to highlight the exact nature of these threats. She said merely underlining the relatively slim chances these bills stand of passing into law misses a larger point. What matters is that the bills are being introduced in the first place and that the men behind them won’t talk honestly about their motivations in introducing them.

There are “real attempt to strip women of rights” and it’s not only about abortion, she said. “There are lawmakers who believe women should not have access to birth control.”

“These bills are not just against abortion,” Pelosi agreed. “[These bill sponsors] don’t want family planning and contraception. That has always been there.”

Pelosi said many young members of Congress have “never felt the threat” on these issues and have been “awakened” this session. She said said these bills present a valuable opportunity to make up lost ground in the realm of public opinion.

“We have to make this issue too hot to handle,” she said twice on the call. “We know [Republican supporters] will misrepresent this issue. We don’t have a set of shared values on this, so we have to win in the public domain.”

DeGette and Pro-Choice Caucus Co-Chair Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) are leading the group opposing Pence’s bill but also Rep. Chris Smith’s (R-N.J.) HR 3 “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” and Rep. Joe Pitts’s (R-Penn.) HR 358 “Protect Life Act.” The coalition includes members from the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Judiciary Committee and representatives of pro-choice organizations such as the National Abortion Federation, NARAL Pro-choice America and Planned Parenthood.

The coalition hosted an event launching its campaign against the bills Wednesday that featured the emotional testimony of attorney Mary Vargas.

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