The 42nd annual March for Life protests against the Supreme Court rulings that made abortion a constitutional right will deliberately coincide with a House vote on a bill that the pro-life movement likes — but not the one they were hoping for this week.
Late Wednesday, the House Rules Committee decided not to bring up the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act — which supporters believe will end a procedure that they call cruel and painful — and instead take up another popular pro-life bill to end taxpayer funding of abortion through Obamacare.
The late-night change was the result of some Republican objections to a reporting requirement in the “pain” bill related to pregnancies resulting from rape and incest: to be exempted, a pregnancy due to rape or incest had to have been “reported” prior to the abortion, according to the bill.
Some Republicans balked because many cases of rape and incest are not officially reported.
Rep. Trent Franks, lead sponsor of the bill along with Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, said the reporting requirement was “obviously aimed at making sure other women are protected against the same monster.”
The pain-capable bill will be brought up at a later time, Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, said Wednesday evening.
The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015 to be considered Thursday is sponsored by Mr. Smith; it would prohibit federal funding for abortions, including in health insurance, except for cases of rape, incest and endangerment of the life of the mother.
A Republican vote on the “pain-capable” bill was intended to occur on Jan. 22 because of its “symbolism,” Mr. Franks said.
The bill is intended to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, when fetuses seem to react to painful stimuli. Exceptions could be made under extenuating circumstances, such as life-threatening complications for the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy was caused by a rape or incest that had been reported to an authority.
The American people are “overwhelmingly with us” on this effort of limiting these late-term abortions, which number about 18,000 every year, Mr. Franks told The Washington Times.
Rallying behind bills
The vote gives us “even more reason to rally” with hundreds of thousands of people who celebrate life, said Jeanne Monahan-Mancini, president of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.
But other pro-life supporters were dismayed. “GOP wimp out on 20-week abortion ban?” tweeted the Stanek report, led by nurse Jill Stanek.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council, said the “reporting” part of the “pain” bill was necessary to avoid a “huge loophole.” He urged supporters to call Congress all night and in the morning to vote on the bill.
News of the switch on bills drew applause from pro-choice groups. “It’s so unpopular even their own members won’t support it,” Planned Parenthood tweeted Wednesday night.
Even before Wednesday night’s surprising move, opponents had already rallied to denounce the “pain” bill.
On Tuesday, the White House announced that it would veto the pain-capable unborn child abortion bill as “an assault on a woman’s right to choose” to have an abortion.
Pro-choice members of Congress condemned the bill, saying it disregarded tragic, late-in-pregnancy reasons for abortion as well as the fact that many cases of rape and incest are not reported.
“This dangerous legislation is going nowhere,” Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, told a pro-choice rally in the Capitol on Wednesday.
A legal right means nothing if it’s not enforced, said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, who with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, reintroduced a bill called the Women’s Health Protection Act.
The Democrats’ bill would overturn most of the burgeoning number of state restrictions on abortion, prohibiting such laws as bans on abortions by gestational age, local hospital-admitting requirements for abortion doctors and pre-abortion waiting periods.
“Roe v. Wade is threatened every day” in legislatures and in the courts, said Mr. Blumenthal. “Rather than being on the defensive, we’re going to be on the offensive.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said her organization and other groups such as American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, CREDO, the National Women’s Health Network, UltraViolet, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Federation were set to deliver to Congress the signatures of 140,000 women who oppose the abortion ban introduced by Republicans.
Leaders of the National Right to Life Committee said Wednesday that the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was one of two legislative priorities.
“In the new Congress, every member of the House and Senate will go on record on whether to permit the continued killing of pain-capable unborn children,” Douglas Johnson, federal legislative director of the right to life committee, said in a media briefing.
Another National Right to Life Committee priority is legislation prohibiting the “dismemberment” of an unborn child, which means that certain abortion procedures — again those common later in pregnancy — would be outlawed.
A Kansas lawmaker has promised to introduce the first of these bills this month. Representatives for the National Right to Life Committee and their allies say the measure is being discussed with lawmakers in other states.
An estimated 56 million abortions have been performed since the 1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rulings, according to multiple survey sources including the Guttmacher Institute, a respected source of abortion data.
The March, first held on Jan. 22, 1974, “is the single largest annual civil rights demonstration,” said Deirdre McQuade, a communications official at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is involved in a number of religious events held in conjunction with the march.
Pro-life and pro-choice advocates are vying for public attention this week via social media, ads, speakers, conferences and campaigns.
At 8:30 a.m. Thursday, more than a dozen pro-life leaders will join online supporters for the 10th ProLifeCon at the Family Research Council.
With pro-life majorities in the House and Senate, legislative momentum at the state level and increasing identification with the pro-life movement, organizers said 2015 is a year for hope.
The 21st annual National Prayer Service also will be held Thursday, with a Mass at 7:30 a.m. and an interdenominational service at 8:30 a.m. at the DAR Constitution Hall. Organizers include the National Pro-life Religious Council, Priests for Life, and Faith and Action.
The March for Life begins with a rally around noon on the National Mall followed by a peaceful walk to the Supreme Court.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has numerous events: Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston, head of its committee on pro-life activities, was scheduled to be the principal celebrant at an evening Mass Wednesday, which began an all-night National Prayer Vigil for Life.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was scheduled to celebrate the closing Mass Thursday morning.
When marchers reach the Supreme Court, speakers with the Silent No More Awareness Campaign will introduce their “Shockwaves” outreach and healing campaign, which is aimed at grandparents, siblings, would-be fathers and others who participated in or were affected by an abortion.
The federal bills come on the heels of several years of abortion-restricting measures, with 231 such laws enacted since 2011, researchers with the Guttmacher Institute said in a report issued this month. This tally stands in stark contrast to the 1990s and early 2000s, when fewer than 20 anti-abortion measures passed in a typical year.
Pro-life activists also have rejoiced in the steadily diminishing abortion numbers and abortion clinics.
In 1990, there were 1.6 million abortions, whereas today there are about 1 million, Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a New Year’s statement that also lauded the November election results as more opportunities to enact state and federal laws this year.
Another pro-life group, Operation Rescue, said the number of surgical abortion facilities has fallen from a peak of more than 2,100 in 1991 to 551 in 2014. Another 188 facilities provide only medication or chemical abortions, and more clinics could close this year once courts clear lawsuits blocking clinic regulations from going into effect, said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.
With such anti-abortion provisions passed in states in recent years, it is increasingly likely that Roe will become “a broken promise for more women,” Kalpana Krishnamurthy, policy director of Forward Together, said on a recent press call.
“We firmly believe that this is the time to stand up and fight back,” she said, noting that a campaign called “All Above All” has been building support for abortion rights with people, especially young women, throughout the country.
Pro-choice activists also will be at the Supreme Court, led by the Feminist Majority Foundation and National Organization for Women.
In their outreach, especially to young adults, groups such as Advocates for Youth and NARAL Pro-Choice America are stepping up the personal narratives around abortion, giving women ways to explain why they don’t regret their abortions and why abortions late in pregnancy are needed.
“After 42 years, the real question we ask today is, ‘Is Roe a reality for all,’” asked Kate Stewart, executive vice president for public affairs at Advocates for Youth.
“Simply and resoundingly, the answer is ‘no,’” she said. “A legal right to abortion is meaningless if it’s been restricted to the point that it’s out of reach.”
As a nation, Americans remain divided on abortion: 47 percent describe their views as “pro-choice” and 46 percent say they are “pro-life,” said a Gallup Poll conducted in May.
The pro-choice support is actually much stronger, said Ms. Hogue of NARAL Pro-Choice America. In other polls, people may say they are personally opposed to abortion, but seven in 10 will say they don’t want the government to intervene in another woman’s right to choose — “and 70 percent is a clear majority,” she said.
To Ms. Monahan-Mancini, two things should help “move the needle” toward the pro-life side.
Science and technology are continuing to show the humanity of the unborn child, at ever-younger ages, she said.
In addition, young pro-lifers — including those pouring into Washington for Thursday’s march — are enthusiastic without being cynical. “They really believe that they are going to bring this human rights abuse to an end,” she said.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.