Did Rubio Walk Into A Rape Exemption Abortion Trap During The Debate?

While abortion has already been ruling the headlines, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was forced to dip into the thorny issue of whether abortions should be banned for victims of rape during the GOP’s top-tier debate Thursday night.

When moderator Megyn Kelly suggested Rubio was in favor of rape exemptions in abortion bans, Rubio pushed back and argued he never supported such an exception.

“I have never said that, and I have never advocated that,” Rubio said. “I have advocated that we pass a law that says all human life at every stage of development is worthy of protection.”

It was widely assumed Rubio supported exemptions in the case of rape and incest because those exceptions were included in legislation he introduced in 2013 prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy in 2013.

The issue of rape exemptions nearly derailed Republicans’ ability to pass the 2015 version of the 20-week ban in the House, but for the opposite reason. House GOP women expressed concern that the exemption was too narrow — it required sexual assault victims to report the rape to law enforcement — and would invite “war on women” accusations from Democrats. Leadership was forced to withdraw the bill from the floor, embarrassingly, on the eve of a major anti-abortion march in Washington. The bill was only passed months later, with a broader exemption that no longer required a law enforcement report. Rubio himself admitted in April that he is willing to support a bill with exemptions in order to see it pass.

Nevertheless, other Republicans have moved to the right on the issue of whether abortion should be legal for rape exemptions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — who had caught flack from social conservatives for taking a moderate tone on abortion in a 2014 ad — reportedly requested that lawmakers leave out rape, incest and health of the mother exemptions in a 20-week abortion ban he signed last month. Walker dodged a question on his opposition to life of the mother exemptions Thursday night.

Within the anti-abortion movement, the question of rape exemptions is a flash point. Groups like Living Exceptions— made up of children from pregnancies that were the result of rape — along with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the New York Roman Catholic Archbishop referenced by Kelly Thursday, have suggested including such exemptions undermines anti-abortion legislation.

But taking a hard line on rape exemptions in abortion could come back to haunt Republicans in the general election.

While only about half of Americans believe that abortion should be legal under all circumstance — a trend that has been relatively static in the years since Roe v. Wade — many more believe in legal abortion in at least certain circumstances. According to Gallup, about three-quarters of Americans believe it should be legal for rape and incest victims, a portion that has stayed steady in the last two decades.

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