Next week’s scheduled House vote on a national 20-week abortion ban, to be held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is reviving a bitter public debate within the anti-choice movement about whether to support abortion bans that include exceptions for preganancies resulting from rape or incest.
Even as major anti-choice groups line up to support the 20-week ban, activists in the “personhood” camp of the anti-abortion-rights movement are warning that the ban’s exceptions sell out the movement’s principles.
Back in 2013, when the House Judiciary Committee was debating a 20-week ban based on National Right to Life model legislation, Democrats on the committee tried to amend the bill to add rape and incest exceptions, but were rebuffed by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, who declared that “the instance of rape resulting in pregnancy is very low.”
The Republican-led committee eventually approved the measure without the exceptions, but Franks’ comment had caused such a political firestorm that the House GOP leadership quietly added the exceptions in at the last minute and handed the public leadership on the bill over to a Republican woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Most of the major national anti-abortion groups didn’t support the added exceptions but backed the ban anyway, and it handily passed the Republican-controlled House. But the addition of the exceptions caused a very public split in the anti-choice movement. Georgia Right to Life, the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, urged its state’s representatives in Congress to oppose the bill, a direct repudiation of the national group’s strategy. In return, National Right to Life kicked its Georgia affiliate out of the organization and replaced it with a new group called Georgia Life Alliance. Georgia Right to Life continued to exist as an independent group but also started a new national group called the Personhood Alliance to rival National Right to Life and push for no-exceptions abortion bans.
Now that Blackburn has reintroduced the bill with a rape and incest exception included, the Personhood Alliance and Georgia Right to Life are coming out to oppose it. In a statement yesterday, the Personhood Alliance’s president, Daniel Becker, lambasted Republicans for introducing a “message bill” with what he believes is the wrong message: "This a message bill. The president has already vowed to veto the bill, so why, in a Republican led House and Senate, send out a message that fails to embrace the essence of the pro-life movement."
Georgia Right to Life sounded the same note, saying that abortion bans should “protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent”:
"Last Fall, voters sent a clear message that they're fed up with political gamesmanship and lack of courage," [GRTL Executive Director Genevieve] Wilson said. "There's absolutely no need to compromise principles on any bill, especially one that President Obama has already said he will veto."
GRTL supported the 2013 version until an exception for rape and incest was added - which H.R.36 also has. We should pass bills that protect all children in the womb who feel pain, not just those conceived by consent.