Several Republican congresswomen are reportedly splitting from their party on a national abortion bill that’s scheduled for a vote in the House next week, raising concerns that the legislation is too extreme and will alienate female voters.
The GOP-controlled House will vote on a proposed 20-week abortion ban next Thursday — the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion throughout the United States. The legislation has passed the House for the past two years and was expected to have broad support in the 114th Congress, particularly as Republicans have set their sights on later abortions as an area where they believe they can advance their agenda.
However, the National Journal reports that a group of GOP women led by Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) have started pushing back against the legislation, expressing concerns during a closed-door meeting of House Republicans. Ellmers reportedly said she is worried that voting on the 20-week ban will alienate young female voters, urging her colleagues “to be smart about how we’re moving forward.”
As Politico reports, Ellmers is also concerned that the proposed abortion ban has a particularly narrow exception for rape victims. As the bill is currently written, in order to qualify for the exemption, women who became pregnant from rape must have reported their assault to law enforcement officials.
The assumption that sexual assaults are only valid crimes if they’ve been reported to the police ultimately fuels the idea that some rapes are more “legitimate” than others. The Republican Party has been haunted by “legitimate rape” ever since former Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) infamously claimed that victims of legitimate rape don’t often get pregnant “because “the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Now, Ellmers is reportedly trying to get the language changed to stave off similar controversy around the 20-week abortion ban.
In a press release on Friday afternoon, Reps. Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) — the leaders of the Pro-Choice Caucus — criticized House Republicans for the narrowly defined rape exception in the proposed abortion ban. “Families across this country don’t want politicians inserting themselves into these extremely personal decisions, much less defining whether a rape or case of incest was legitimate or not,” the congresswomen said.
Republicans have recently been attempting to appeal more to female voters, particularly after the party lost women’s votes by wide margins in the 2012 elections. Part of that effort has involved giving female Republicans a more prominent role in the party. In 2012, a group of two dozen Republican congresswomen formed a new women’s caucus.
From both a policy and public relations standpoint, however, the party has largely botched its outreach strategy — blocking equal pay legislation and releasing political ads relying on sexist stereotypes, for example.
And the emerging split among Republicans in the House reveals another potential pitfall of attempting to appeal to women: More women in Congress can lead to more pushback against policies that the GOP establishment supports.