HR 36, the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” was introduced at the start of the new Congress by U.S. Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Trent Franks. The legislation would halt abortions, except in cases of rape and incest, after 20 weeks based on the ability to feel pain beyond the 20-week period. To date, the legislation has 156 cosponsors, including two Democrats.
Pro-life groups hailed the legislation as “an essential step in restoring the sanctity of human life and stopping the painful killing of unborn children at 20 weeks or later.”
Supporters of the bill point out that the initiative has broad public support. A 2014 Quinnipiac poll revealed that 60 percent of Americans supported limiting abortions after 20 weeks except in cases of rape and incest. It was split with 61 percent of men supporting it compared to 59 percent of women.
President Barack Obama vowed to veto a version of the bill in the 113th Congress, one that passed the House, but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
However, U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a North Carolina Republican, is leading a group of GOP women in delaying a vote on the bill. In a Politico report, Ellmers told fellow Republicans in a closed door meeting that the language of the bill needs to change because in order to qualify for the rape or incest exception, the crime must be reported to authorities.
Another report also shows that Ellmers appears concerned with the political consequences of such a vote:
“I have urged leadership to reconsider bringing it up next week. . . . We got in trouble last year, and I think we need to be careful again; we need to be smart about how we’re moving forward . . . The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials — social issues just aren’t as important [to them].”
Although there is some data showing that younger Americans are trending against abortion, the issue is further complicated with other pro-life advocates complaining about the legislation being too open-ended. Aaron Wolf of the Rockford Institute, a traditionalist think-tank, writes that the benefits of the bill are undermined when:
“[E]xceptions are prefaced by dramatic assertions of preborn pain. How can one possibly make the case that infants capable of feeling pain should be protected from the abortionist’s needle, only to turn around and except one particular class of infant?” – Aaron Wolf
In the 2014 elections, Republicans increased their majority in the House and gained control of the Senate with an enthusiastic turnout among its base in an otherwise historically low turnout. However, the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act demonstrates that there are still divisions within the GOP over how to best deal with the divisive issue.