Pro-choice Democrats are raring for an abortion fight this week — and they intend to start one. After a trio of ultra-conservative abortion bills were filed in the weeks since the Republicans took over earlier this year, returning House Democrats and several of their Senate colleagues will roll out a multi-tiered attack on the GOP’s abortion plans, simultaneously painting the bills as extreme, hypocritical and off the all-important economic message.
Sources familiar with the rollout in the House tell TPM the rhetorical attacks have been coordinated with national pro-choice groups like NARAL Pro-choice America, the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood.
Though the effort on the Senate is less coordinated, a number of Senators are planning to join the fight against the House abortion bills in anticipation of them making it out of the Republican House majority.
Democratic campaign types say Republicans may have boxed themselves in with the bills, which have led to an embarrassing walkback on “forcible rape” and go farther than critics say any anti-abortion legislation has in the past. Democrats hope that publicizing the bills and forcing the Republicans to talk about them could alienate the new House majority from some of its independent female supporters.
Three press conferences will kick off the pro-choice pushback on the abortion bills. In the House, Judiciary Committee Democrats led by ranking member John Conyers (MI) and Jerrod Nadler (NY) will take on H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” as it comes up for review in a Judiciary subcommittee.
H.R. 3 drew fire after it was revealed that the first version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), included language that would have limited federal abortion coverage to women who had been victims of “forcible rape” and incest victims under the age of 18. Pro-choice groups tore into the language — and even pro-life Democrats were wary of what it might mean. Eventually, Smith promised to drop the language from the bill, in favor of the same exemptions written into existing federal bans.
Smith’s bill includes more than just the “forcible rape” provision including new penalties critics say would it much harder for a woman to obtain abortion coverage from private insurers. But it’s the forcible rape language that’s made the biggest noise, and it’s no surprise that will be a central part of the Democratic pushback on the GOP this week.
Democratic members told TPM last week they think independent women will be turned off by H.R. 3 — and a Democratic source told me Monday that communicating that message is a main goal of the Democratic response to the bills this week. The other two goals, according to sources close to the planning of the Democratic pro-choice messaging, will be to cast the GOP as distracted from the moribund economy by social issues and hypocritical on the ideals of personal freedom.
The fact that Smith’s legislation is the third bill taken up by the GOP-controlled House shows that Republicans aren’t as hell-bent on spending cuts and job creation as they’ve promised, according to Democrats. The minority caucus in the House is betting that independent voters who sent the Democrats packing in November won’t be too happy to hear their the Republicans are spending so much time on abortion laws that likely won’t get past President Obama anyway, and seem especially foolish while unemployment continues to hover around 9 percent.
NARAL communications director Ted Miller told TPM his group is “targeting anti-choice members of Congress, particularly members of the freshman class, who ran on jobs and the economy who are now signing their names to this extreme anti-choice legislative agenda.”
The final argument Democrats will make this week is one the pro-choice movement has been making for years in the face of conservatives who often talk of government intrusion into places it shouldn’t go: more abortion limits mean less freedom for women, and more government controls over their personal decisions.
“Under the fig leaf of prohibiting federal funding of abortion, which is already banned, these bills would take comprehensive private health insurance coverage for abortion away from millions of American women, even those who face serious health problems from a pregnancy and make existing restrictions even worse,” Emily Stewart, public policy director for Planned Parenthood told TPM.
Stewart was referring specifically to another bill coming under intense Democratic scrutiny this week. Over at the Energy and Commerce Committee, members will be debating Rep. Joe Pitts’ (R-PA) “Protect Life Act,” which as TPM reported,would essentially allow anti-abortion health care providers to let women in need of emergency pregnancy terminations die rather than perform the procedure.
Democratic members of Energy and Commerce will also hold a press conference this week, taking on Pitts’ bill, as well as a third anti-abortion bill on the House agenda sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN).
Over in the Senate progressive Democrats led by Barbara Boxer (CA) will hold a press conference tomorrow where they’ll call on their colleagues to put a stop to any new limits on abortion rights that might come out of the House. Senate Democrats are not yet coordinating their efforts like House Democrats are, but with the large Republican majority in the House it’s likely the Senate will have to take up at least one of the abortion-limiting bills currently working through the House.