In politics, you have only so many friends. Part of the great balancing act of being in elected leadership, aside from doing important work while sporting the approximate IQ of an electric toaster oven, is to keep those who are reliabily in your camp happy, while maintaining enough openness to attract those who could, one day, become part of your election campaign. Sometimes, this balancing act is difficult, as with foreign policy – a war-weary America is loathe to involve itself in more Middle Eastern conflicts, while Middle Eastern conflicts still provide the globe with the lion’s share of its instability, for example – and sometimes this balancing act is easy – don’t, for example, anger an important key demographic, with a youthful component, on the eve of its most important event of the year.
I happen to be pro-life. I know, from the Internet, that there are many who disagree with me. But approximately 40 years ago today, we entered a new cultural territory that has ultimately proven to have been the first step in a downward spiral, as the culture moves further and further away from valuing the dignity and humanity of living creatures, and especially that of the most vulnerable among us: the unborn. Being pro-life, recognizing the innate wonder of creation in even the smallest, tiniest, earliest forms of life, is the very genesis of the fight for justice and peace anywhere else. If you don’t believe that humanity in any form has a value and an impact, how can you possibly believe it has rights, responsibilities and needs we, as a society, are required to preserve and address?
Anyway, enough with the philosophy. I’m terrible at it anyway. Even if you’re not in the camp of outlawing every abortion everywhere, there are a few intermediate steps that can be taken to ensure that, at the very least, the women everyone always claims to care so much about, are loved and protected. For starters, enforcing laws that mandate abortion clinics follow a minimum standard of care and cleanliness mirroring that of your average veterinary clinc. And then there’s the matter of limiting abortion to pre-viability, when a fetus could not live outside the womb. In most countries, including, of all places, France, abortions beyond 20 weeks are considered barbaric. I suspect the notion that enacting legislation regarding these intermediary steps was on the House GOP’s mind when they proposed their abortion bill this week, and they probably even thought it’d be great to time it’s passage, even if it was only symbolic, with the annual March for Life.
Unfortunately, on even this small, unlikely-to-ever-be-approved measure, they chickened out.
House Republican leaders abruptly dropped plans late Wednesday to vote on an anti-abortion bill amid a revolt by female GOP lawmakers concerned that the legislation’s restrictive language would once again spoil the party’s chances of broadening its appeal to women and younger voters.
In recent days, as many as two dozen Republicans had raised concerns with the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” that would ban abortions after the 20th week of a pregnancy. Sponsors said that exceptions would be allowed for a woman who is raped, but she could only get the abortion after reporting the rape to law enforcement.
A vote had been scheduled for Thursday to coincide with the annual March for Life, a gathering that brings hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists to Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
But Republican leaders dropped those plans after failing to win over a bloc of lawmakers, led by Reps. Rene Ellmers (R-N.C.) and Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), who had raised concerns.
The House will vote instead Thursday on a bill prohibiting federal funding for abortions – a more innocuous anti-abortion measure that the Republican-controlled chamber has passed before.
Here’s the thing. From the beginning, this was going to be a bad idea. But here’s where my introduction to this piece comes in: if this wasn’t something that was going to happen, why do it at all? The bill was problematic from the start. It was going to be the first bill passed by the new Congress, which gave it more publicity than normal. It set the tone for media coverage that would be less than favorable. The lawmakers who dreamed up this cockamamie idea should have known the public relations nightmare it was going to create. So why push forward with it? So that female GOP legislators, who, themselves, have a dismal record on appealing to women to begin with – Ellmers, if you recall, once told a study committee that they needed to “bring policy down to a woman’s level” – rehabilitate their slagging image with an “I am woman, hear me roar!” for the benefit of the Huffington Post that wouldn’t give the bill, or Renee Ellmers for that matter, positive coverage anyway? To debate a “rape exception” for a bill that doesn’t even take effect until 20 weeks into a pregnancy, that leadership had to include, only to inevitably make a mess of, as no matter where you stand on it, you’re wrong? To allow ostensibly pro-life elected leaders to go back to their districts and say they accomplished something without them having to worry that their work would have a real-world impact?
Either you want to give the Marchers for Life a symbolic gesture of solidarity or you don’t.
Now, the situation is worse. People who oppose abortion restrictions will move on to the next manufactured outrage with carefully honed precision. Maybe, a few years from now, they’ll casually remind a few people who are already in their camp that the Republican legislature undertook an anti-abortion measure before the ink on their Congressional oaths have dried. They’ll leave out the part about it having failed. And meanwhile, all of those hundreds of thousands of people who will brave cold weather – many, many of them of the younger demographic that Republicans desperately need to target – feel betrayed and saddened, that leaders who claimed on the stump to uphold the party’s values, couldn’t even sign their name to a bill that was guaranteed to fail. The next time Renee Ellmers undertakes a campaign against an American Idol runner-up, I’m sure they’ll remember. I know that as a pro-life woman, I will.
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