You may remember the commercials. If you do, you almost certainly wish you didn’t. Udall was mocked because, it turned out, no one except Udall and some other losing Democrats were talking about abortion and/or birth control. Republicans, if you recall, weren’t saying a word.
And so, what happens? Elections are over. Republicans win. Congress is back in session. And somebody turns off the mute button, meaning that everyone is talking about abortion again.
It may not surprise you to learn that this was all part of the plan, or as Dana Milbank put it in the Washington Post, a bait and switch.[pullquote]Elections are over. Republicans win. Congress is back in session. Somebody turns off the mute button and everyone’s talking about abortion.[/pullquote]
What I mean, and what voters should have foreseen, was that the House would jump-start the 2015 session with something called the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. There are exceptions for rape, but only if the woman has reported the rape to the police. And there are exceptions for minors who are victims of incest, but only if the assault had been reported.
In other words, a woman seeking an abortion after 20 weeks would have to bring a note not from her doctor, but from her local cop.
This is not exactly a new twist, but it is one that captured everyone’s attention. We’ve gone from legitimate rape to rape that is rape only when it is reported as rape. Under this bill, which passed the House in 2013 with the exact same wording, women who say they were raped, but didn’t report the assault, are presumed to not be telling the truth.
Does that work for you? No? Well, it didn’t work for many of the Republican women in the House, who got GOP leaders to pull the bill. Some of those women had voted for the bill before, which tells you something. Having majorities in both the House and the Senate means that bills coming out of the House might actually matter and that votes don’t necessarily come free.
Pulling the bill was a major embarrassment, of course. The bill was timed to kick off a Washington anti-abortion march. They held the march, which was to mark the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but the House didn’t provide the expected accompanying music for the latest round in the culture wars, which are playing out again in legislatures across America, including Colorado’s.
And so it seems Udall was right after all. Congressional Republicans couldn’t wait to go after abortion, and they threw in rape just for old times. And maybe you’re saying this was the House, not the Senate, but you may want to note that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had already said he would take up the bill once it passed the House (although, we’re told, it would never get past a Senate filibuster). Everyone gets a share of the blame here.
If the bill had passed, newly elected Sen. Cory Gardner would have had to vote on it, but it turns out he was spared. It would have been an early test of Gardner’s ability to play the role of Senate moderate. Instead, the ghost of Todd Akin suddenly appeared on the House floor, and that was that. Actually, it was the living presence of most of the congresswomen in the House who switched off their own mute buttons and told leadership that they must be nuts. Why not just call the bill “The Elect Hillary Clinton Act”?
According to the polls, opposing late-term abortions is a winning political move. Of course, most people have no idea that only 1 percent of abortions come after 20 weeks. But the rape question is an entirely different matter. The strange thing is that the Republicans somehow missed that distinction, which seems to be part of a trend.
It has been a strange few months since the Republicans slammed the Democrats in the midterms. Ever since, Barack Obama has been slamming Republicans in the post-election, pre-2016 campaign. Obama has owned the headlines and gotten a large bump in his approval ratings while Republicans, with their new and improved majorities, can’t seem to get out of their own way.
This is how Charlie Dent — a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania — described the start: “Week one, we had a speaker election that didn’t go the way that a lot of us wanted it to. Week two, we were debating deporting children, and again, not a conversation a lot of us wanted to have then. And week three, we’re now debating rape and abortion — again, an issue that most of us didn’t campaign on or really wanted to engage on at this time. And I just can’t wait for week four.”
Anticipation is obviously running high. It may be the one area where Republicans and Democrats actually agree.