House GOP Looks to Bring Back Late-Term Abortion Bill

Negotiations are underway to change the measure and bring it back to the floor, but there's no deal yet.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 24: U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) speaks during a hearing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act before the House Energy and Commerce Committee October 24, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Developers who helped to build the website for people to buy health insurance under Obamacare testified before the panel on what had gone wrong to cause the technical difficulties in accessing the site. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) (National Journal)

House Republicans are looking to breathe new life into an antiabortion bill that was pulled from House consideration earlier this year over concerns that it was insensitive to women who become pregnant as a result of rape.

But finding a compromise will be difficult, and in a sign of just how sensitive the issue is, two camps involved in the negotiations are already on separate pages about what the bill's rewrite will look like.

Many House Republican women strongly objected to the bill when it came up in January over a provision that required women to have reported a rape to law enforcement in order to be eligible for a late-term abortion. Republican leaders' handling of the bill and their decision to pull it from the floor were seen as signs that they were struggling to govern their historically large majority.

Now, one of the congresswomen instrumental in scuttling the bill says that she was shown a draft two weeks ago that she could support.

"If it is brought up for a vote, I believe as it stands right now "¦ I am in support of it," said Rep. Renee Ellmers, chairwoman of the Republican Women's Policy Committee.

Ellmers said that instead of a requirement that rape victims report the crime to law enforcement, the version she saw would mandate that the woman must inform the doctor performing the abortion that she was raped in order to be eligible for a late-term abortion.

"The demand that it be reported to law enforcement was completely unrealistic and only further victimized the victims of rape, and I think that's something that we have to be very conscientious about," Ellmers said.

Ellmers added that the new language clarifies exceptions in the case of incest as well. Previously, the bill allowed only minors who were victims of incest to be eligible for late-term abortions. Now, the bill would open up the procedure to any women who become pregnant as a result of incest, no matter the age, she said.

"Incest is incest. There can't really be a cutoff age," Ellmers said. "That was, I thought, not well thought out." Ellmers said she has not yet spoken with all House Republican women about the changes, but she hopes to do so soon.

The problem, however, is that the bill's chief sponsor said the language he is crafting is not quite what Ellmers described.

"We continue to search for language that will unify the pro-life base," Rep. Trent Franks said in a statement. "However it is completely premature to say what that final language will be. With that said, the draft being discussed now differs in substantive ways from" Ellmers' description.

Franks and his staff declined, however, to specify how his draft is different.

It is unclear when the bill will come up, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on Monday that he is committed to bringing the bill back to the floor.

The bill was also discussed in a Tuesday morning meeting of the Values Action Team, a group of antiabortion legislators, and members were left with the distinct impression that it would see floor consideration this year, according to Rep. John Fleming, the group's vice chairman.

Still, it is not yet clear that antiabortion outside groups would accept new language. The groups had opposed changes to the bill when it was considered in January, which is one of the reasons it could not be salvaged at the time. And softening the rape reporting language could leave the bill too weak for some members. Fleming, for instance, said he believes the reporting requirement should be in the bill. "You leave a huge loophole," he said. "All you've got to do is say, 'I've been raped,' and no questions are asked."

The bill would institute a federal ban on abortions past the 20th week of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, a policy that most House Republicans do support.