Republican Congress Passes Abortion Restriction Bill, President Vetoes

Originally published December 20, 2014

Tone: Historical
Notes: We’re going back a little, to fill in 2015 a bit more. There’s a few more 2015 articles then back to 2016. Sorry for jumping around.

Date: June 2015

(Washington) The Republican led Congress passed landmark anti-abortion legislation that made abortions illegal at the 20-week mark, in 2015. The G.O.P. Senate proved the more difficult chamber to pass the legislation, but both houses ultimately passed it. The President vetoed it in June 2015, and with Democrats united in the House, the veto override failed. Yet, it would be a symbolic vote that would suggest how far the anti-abortion movement had come since 1973.

The legislation originated in the U.S. House of Representatives, sponsored by conservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.), a noted anti-abortion legislator. Anti-abortion activists had been encouraged by their success around the states to pass laws to shutter abortion clinics, and saw an opportunity to road test passage of a national anti-abortion law. The legislative attempt was the first serious attempt since the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. Propelled by activists who had succeeded in passing abortion restrictions in Texas, Louisiana, Michigan, and elsewhere, the legislation was the first that capped legal abortions at 20 weeks. The public supported it by a wide 63-35% margin, and conservatives saw it as a way to divide Democrats. The strategy was seen as replicating the successful push to make illegal late term abortions in the early 2000s.

In the House, Republicans held a 247 seat majority. Of the 247 Republicans to vote for the law, only 5 dissented. Of the 188 Democrats, only 8 Democrats voted for the law. The law cleared the House 250 to 184, with one Member not voting. The conservative House had made abortions illegal in every circumstance except the mother’s life at stake. Republicans who voted for the law generally represented a Romney district, while Democrats who voted against it represented an Obama district. Ms. Gwen Graham (D-Fla. 2nd) and Mr. Brad Ashford (D-Neb. 2nd) voted for the law, while Mr. Bruce Poliquin (R-Me. 2nd), Mr. Rod Blum (R-Iowa 1), Mr. Crescent Hardy (R-Nev. 04) all voted against the law. Others joined in for and against the law, bucking their parties, as well. Analysts said that the lean of their districts predicted how they would vote.

In the Republican-led U.S. Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduled debate. After a tumultuous debate that saw a successful amendment that expanded the exceptions to rape, incest, and when a minor had gained a judge’s approval was added, the Majority Leader scheduled a cloture vote. Every Republican in the Senate voted for cloture, with Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Jon Tester (D-Montana), Robert P. Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). Observers were surprised at some of the names, but political spectators thought the red state Democrats were voting for cloture to avoid being hurt by socially conservative forces back home. Messrs. Donnelly, Manchin, and Ms. Heitkamp all represented deeply conservative states with strong pro-life forces that were bringing their weight to bear on the matter. Mr. Tester faced a 2018 midterm electorate and had eked by his second term with less than 50% of the vote. Ms. McCaskill, at the time, was openly eyeing the governorship of deeply conservative Missouri, and did not want a controversial vote to doom her chances at home in a 2016 race. Mr. Casey (D-Pa.) was the lone surprise, but his father had been the pro-life governor of Pennsylvania in the 1990s. Analysts also said the high popularity of the 20 week ban in polling had motivated red state Democrats to not cross the socially conservative groups that dominated their home state politics.

With 60 votes secured and debate ended, the Majority Leader scheduled a final roll call vote to pass the law. This time, it was a much closer vote. Ms. Collins (R-Me.) and Mr. Tester voted no, and the law went to Conference Committee. With Republican majorities in Conference, the law was hashed out, and the Senate version adopted. The Republican House passed it by a virtually identical margin to the original vote, and the G.O.P Senate passed it 58-42, with the same vote breakdown as before.

The President vetoed it, and denounced the law in ringing tones. The veto override was a mere formality, and analysts said it was a harbinger of times to come, if Republicans gained the Presidency. A similar gambit had played out in the 1990s, over the banning of partial birth abortions, until President George W. Bush (R-Tex.) had signed it into law. Analysts said the G.O.P had been road testing passage of this law, and would almost certainly attempt it in 2017, if they were to control the government.

More broadly, the anti-abortion movement celebrated it’s legislative victories, while pro-choice forces worried. Since the Republican takeover of 2010, abortion rights had been sharply curtailed in many newly Republican – governed states. Gallup itself had recorded a 64% support for banning abortions after 20 weeks, in 2012 (OOC: Actual poll). Conservatives had been stymied on other social issues, but on abortion, they had been more successful. Analysts detected (rightly) a strategy to undo Roe without actually overturning the decision itself or returning to the laws of the 1960s, which banned birth control and abortion rights.


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