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With Deal On Rape Language, House GOP Is Poised To Pass 20-Week Abortion Ban

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AP Photo / Travis Long

“Life is precious and we must do everything we can to fight for it and protect it,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told the Weekly Standard Friday, signaling he was prepared to bring it to the floor this week.

The measure was originally scheduled for a vote in January, timed to the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the annual March for Life rally outside the Capitol. But leadership pulled the bill at the last minute, facing a revolt by some GOP women who were concerned about a requirement that rape victims report their assaults to law enforcement if they wanted to qualify for an exemption to the abortion prohibition.

Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) believed to be the leader of the contingent that sunk the original measure, has since suggested she would support a new version of the bill, which no longer requires women to report their rapes to the police.

"I'm much more comfortable with this new language," she told Bloomberg in April. She added then that she still wanted to talk over the revisions with her colleagues who also had been concerned about the earlier version.

Ellmers' office declined to comment Monday on whether she still intended to support the bill.

The new language stipulates that reporting a rape to law enforcement is no longer mandatory, but sexual assault victims seeking abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy must have "obtained counseling" or "medical treatment for the rape or an injury related to the rape" at least 48 hours prior to the abortion procedure. In the case of minors who are victims of sexual assault or incest, abortion providers still must notify either law enforcement or social services.

Lawmakers added other sweeteners to the bill to keep abortion opponents on board, including a provision that says that late-term abortion providers must seek medical care for a fetus if it appears to be capable of survival outside of the womb.

The House previously passed a version of the 20-week abortion ban in 2013, but it did not go anywhere in the then-Democratic Senate. With Republicans now in control of the upper chamber, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has promised to introduce a version of the legislation, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he will bring up for a vote.

At least one anti-abortion Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), has said he will support the bill, but its prospects in the upper chamber aren't certain.

"We are of course going to fight back hard," Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) told the Huffington Post in December.

If the bill were to pass in the Senate, it faces a veto by President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, abortion opponents aim to build momentum behind the measure with the hope that a Republican president would enact the bill if elected; the GOP 2016 presidential field so far has lined up in support of the 20-week ban.

Polling has shown the American public to be in favor of banning abortions after 20 weeks. However, abortion rights activists point out that that support shrinks in the case of fetal abnormalities, which are not exempted in the federal legislation.

About The Author

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Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.