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House GOP To Vote On 20-Week Abortion Ban After Quietly Adding Exemptions For Rape And Incest

House-republicans
AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite

The bill cleared the Judiciary Committee last week by a party line vote of 20-12, after Republicans defeated a Democratic amendment to create exemptions for rape and incest. (The bill contained an exemption for when the mother's life was at stake.) The sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), created a headache for the GOP by arguing during the markup that incidence of pregnancy from rape was "very low" -- comments that he walked back hours later.

But late last week, Republican leaders quietly added language to the bill exempting the 20-week abortion ban if "the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor." The exemption would only apply if the rape or incest were reported to law enforcement or a legally authorized government agency prior to the abortion.

"Jobs continues to be our No. 1 concern," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told reporters last Thursday. "And while we continue to be focused on this, there are other important issues that we have to deal with. And after the Kermit Gosnell case and the publicity that it received, I think the [abortion] legislation is appropriate and I hope that those who have voted against such proposals in the past will change their mind."

Republicans sidelined Franks, an outspoken abortion foe, and instead tapped veteran Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) to manage the legislation on the floor. The moves show sensitivity to criticism that the party's ongoing anti-abortion efforts reflect hostility toward women.

Last year, a similar House bill written by Franks applied only in the District of Columbia. This year's version applies to the entire country.

The legislation poses a direct challenge to Supreme Court jurisprudence, which holds that states may not outlaw abortions if they occur before 24 weeks of pregnancy. Many cite the murders of babies born alive by convicted late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell as justification for the legislation.

Meanwhile, reproductive rights advocates are gearing up for battle.

"Republican men think they can hand this bill off to a woman legislator to soften the blow -- and frankly, that's insulting," said Marcy Stech, a spokeswoman for the pro-choice group EMILY's List. "But as we've seen recently, rebranding won't work when the GOP holds onto the same backwards policies and loose-lipped leaders. No matter the messenger, women voters will continue to see this ban for exactly what it is -- an extreme bill designed to threaten the rights and safety of women across the nation."

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.