Renee Ellmers

Rape Exception In Abortion Ban Divides Anti-Choice Movement

As the House prepares to vote on a bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a top priority of the biggest anti-choice groups in the country, a leader of the “personhood” movement is urging members of Congress to vote against the bill because it includes an exemption for survivors of rape and incest.

On Monday, Daniel Becker, head of the new Personhood Alliance, called into the radio program hosted by Cleveland Right to Life’s Molly Smith, telling her that he was in Washington lobbying lawmakers to oppose the bill because of the rape exceptions, which he said some Georgia representatives had already agreed to do.

[UPDATE: It seems that Becker's vote count was optimistic. All Georgia Republicans voted for the 20-week ban — including Rep. Rob Woodall, who voted against it in 2013 — except for Rep. Jody Hice, who voted "present."]

The last time the bill was put up for a vote, in 2013, Becker — then the head of Georgia Right to Life — did the same thing, openly defying the national groups that were pushing for the bill’s passage. A rape exception had been hastily added to the bill before it was put up for a vote in because of controversial remarks on pregnancy by rape made by the bill’s sponsor, Arizona Republican Trent Franks. The House was scheduled to vote on the bill again in January on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, but the vote was cancelled as another dispute over the rape language erupted in the GOP caucus.

Becker told Smith that “behind closed doors,” anti-choice groups acknowledge that there is no chance for the bill to be enacted during Obama’s presidency, meaning that it is “a messaging bill” — one which he argued was sending the wrong message.

Becker emphasized that while no-exceptions anti-choice advocates like himself share the same ultimate goal, the criminalization of abortion, leaders of the major national groups have shown themselves willing to compromise on issues like rape exceptions. The two sides of the movement just differ on strategy, he said.

“The message that we send should comport completely with our policy objectives, beginning at the beginning of the pro-life movement itself,” he said. “We as a movement have never disagreed on our policy objectives. We have merely bickered and disagreed over strategy, what can be accomplished, what should be tried, what this will accomplish if we do this, that or the other. But as far as our objectives, it’s to stand for the sanctity of life, man created imago dei, in the image of God, and that sanctity of life should be protected at its earliest biological beginning all the way to natural death. So we’re seeing a message bill being crafted in Washington, DC, that has no chance of saving a single life.”

He insisted that such a no-exceptions message would play well with voters: “When we bring it down to a baby’s rights, a child’s rights, as opposed to the mother’s rights, the baby always wins in the mind of the public in most cases.”

Smith lamented that the vote merely presented an opportunity for members of Congress to get “a tick beside their names form some of these larger pro-life organizations” in election-year candidate guides.

“Molly, you’ve lifted the covers on an ugly secret,” Becker responded, “and that is the pro-life leadership are electing moderates into positions of influence that are undermining our efforts behind closed doors.”

Renee Ellmers, the North Carolina congresswoman who led the revolt against the version of the bill that exempted rape survivors only if they filed a police report, “was projected to be the darling child of Susan B. Anthony List,” Becker said.

“She was going to be the future of the pro-life movement, and she was the one who shut down the bill, much to their chagrin, who they later demonized. How do you take the future savior and demonize them at the same time? It’s because they’re electing moderates with rape and incest exceptions. If we were electing conservatives who knew what the value of human life entailed, they’d be right on the marriage issue, fiscal policy and government issues across the board.”

House GOP Schedules Vote On 20-Week Abortion Ban That Still Includes Hurdles For Rape Survivors

Back in January, House Republican leaders cancelled a vote on a 20-week abortion ban, the top legislative priority of anti-choice groups, shortly before it was scheduled to take place on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. A group of more moderate anti-choice Republicans, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers, had objected to language that exempted rape survivors from the ban only if they had reported the assault to law enforcement first, which Ellmers said “further victimized the victims of rape.”

Anti-choice groups were furious and have been holding protests outside the offices of House Republican leaders demanding a new vote on the bill. It seems that they have now gotten their wish.

A number of outlets are reporting that the House leadership has scheduled a vote next week on the 20-week ban after months of negotiations about the rape exception. According to news reports, while the requirement that rape survivors file a police report is no longer in the bill, they are now required to present evidence that they “have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling at least 48 hours prior to the late-term procedure.”

According to LifeNews, the bill also includes an “informed consent” requirement that notifies women “of the age of her baby and the requirements under the law” and includes language making it easier to sue abortion providers.

The Weekly Standard reports that National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List are both behind the new version of the bill:

In 2013, the House passed the bill, called the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which included exceptions in the cases of rape, incest, and when a physical health issue endangers the life of the mother. But an effort to pass identical legislation in the new Congress was scrapped in January on the eve of the annual March for Life because some GOP members, led publicly by Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, objected to the bill's reporting requirement for late-term abortions in the case of rape. The bill required the crime to be reported to law enforcement officials at any point prior to performing a late-term abortion.

According to House Republicans, that requirement has been removed from the bill. Instead, the legislation requires abortion doctors to ensure that victims have received either medical treatment or licensed counseling at least 48 hours prior to the late-term procedure. With that change, the bill has assuaged the concerns of those Republican members while still garnering strong support of national pro-life groups, including the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List.

“I’m proud we’ve gotten to a point where we found a consensus between our members and the pro-life groups out there,” said Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee.

The fact that there was a rape exception in the bill at all was the result of last-minute negotiations on a previous version of the bill after its sponsor, Trent Franks, made a Todd Akin-like remark about pregnancy from rape being rare. As we explore in our recent report on the “personhood” movement, rape exceptions are extraordinarily divisive within the anti-choice community. The National Right to Life Committee’s decision to support the Franks bill even with the narrow rape exception caused a number of state anti-choice groups to form a rival organization that pushes for “no exceptions” anti-choice policies.

Blogger Jill Stanek reports that one person involved in the negotiations on the current version 20-week ban told her, “This is the most complicated bill I’ve ever worked on.”

Anti-Choice Women's Groups Reportedly Pushed For Rape Reporting Requirement In Abortion Ban

Earlier this week, the National Review posted an audio recording of a call that a constituent of Rep. Renee Ellmers made to the North Carolina Republican’s office about her role in delaying a vote on a national 20-week abortion ban, which reveals, among other things, that prominent anti-choice women’s groups pushed for a requirement that rape survivors file police reports before being allowed an exemption from the ban.

Ellmers and other Republican women and moderates had objected to a provision that exempted rape survivors only if they first reported the assault to the police, warning that it could become a political liability for Republicans. In response, the GOP leadership withdrew the bill on the eve of a planned vote to work out what Sen. Lindsey Graham later called “this definitional problem with rape.”

In the call posted by National Review, an Ellmers staffer explains in frank detail the political machinations behind the wording of the rape exception and the ultimate withdrawal of the bill.

As we have noted, an earlier version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks and approved by the House Judiciary Committee in 2013 included no rape exception at all. But after what the Ellmers staff called a “huge communications error” from Franks, when he suggested that rape rarely results in pregnancy, Republican leaders quietly snuck in a rape exception to the bill before putting it up for a vote on the House floor.

The Ellmers staffer revealed that prominent anti-choice women’s groups, including the Susan B. Anthony List and Concerned Women for America, objected to the rape exception and were instrumental in getting GOP leaders to modify it to include the reporting requirement.

These groups, the staffer said, told Republicans, “well, if you’re going to make an exception for rape and incest, it’s going to have to be reported to law enforcement officials.”

The staffer told the constituent that the rape exception was bad policy because it puts the federal government in the position of “identifying what is an is not rape”… and creates a “loophole” by which she alleged women would lie to law enforcement about being raped in order to access legal abortion.

The conversation starts at about the 3:00 mark in this video:

National Right To Life Targeting GOP Congresswomen Who Objected To Abortion Ban’s Rape Provision

The National Right to Life Committee is indicating that it will work to unseat the anti-choice Republican House members who sidetracked a 20-week abortion ban last week because of a dispute over the wording of a rape exception.

The House members, led by Republican women including Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana, objected to a provision that would have exempted rape survivors from the ban only if they first filed a police report describing their assault. The members contested that the provision would be politically unpopular and could discourage women from coming forward about sexual assaults. When GOP leaders cancelled a vote on the bill that had been scheduled for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, anti-choice groups were furious, prompting Sen. Lindsey Graham to  beg for their help to “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape.”

LifeNews reports that National Right to Life’s Carol Tobias recently sent an email to supporters urging them to tell Ellmers and her allies, “If you vote or work behind the scenes to allow the slaughter of abortion to continue, you will hear from pro-life voters loudly and clearly at the polls”:

In an email to supporters that LifeNews.com received titled “Elected Officials Who Betray Unborn Babies Have to Go,” Tobias said, “Last week, a small handful of congresswomen and men did something absolutely unconscionable. These lawmakers claim to be “pro-life,” and they were elected to Congress in part because they promised their constituents they would support laws to save the lives of unborn babies.”

“But despite their solemn promises to their pro-life constituents and more important, to the unborn, they ganged up last week to sidetrack for now the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. This humane bill would ban abortions when an unborn baby is developed enough feel terrible pain during an abortion – and if you can’t vote for such a humanitarian no-brainer of a law to protect the unborn, you can’t be trusted to vote for any pro-life legislation,” Tobias added.

We need to send a message loud and clear to all “pro-life” representatives who ask for our vote, but who betray the lives of vulnerable unborn babies when they get in office: If you vote or work behind the scenes to allow the slaughter of abortion to continue, you will hear from pro-life voters loudly and clearly at the polls ,” Tobias added.

Ironically, the last time the 20-week ban was being considered in Congress, NRLC was attacked by others in the anti-choice movement for being too moderate on rape exceptions.

A version of the bill approved by a House committee in 2013 had contained only an exception for abortions that would save the lives of pregnant women; GOP leaders quietly added the rape exception with the reporting requirement after the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Trent Franks, sparked controversy by implying that rape rarely results in pregnancy. When NRLC continued to support the bill, which had originally been based on its own model legislation, one of its chapters broke off and started a rival group promoting a no-exceptions policy to abortion bans.

A number of no-exceptions anti-choice groups continued to object to the most recent iteration of the 20-week ban because it contained a rape exception at all.

GOP Rep. Blasts Anti-Boehner Group As 'Bad Actors' Who 'Thrive' On 'Media Attention'

Rep. Renee Ellmers blasted Tea Party Republicans yesterday for launching a half-baked movement to unseat House Speaker John Boehner in today’s leadership election. In an interview on Newsmax TV yesterday, the North Carolina Republican called the group challenging Boehner, which is led by Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., “bad actors” who are “acting out” because they “thrive” on “media attention.”

“Those who are acting out right now, though, are getting some media attention,” she said. “That’s all it is. It’s media attention. These are folks that thrive on it. They’re bad actors right now because they’re acting as if they’re going against the party and there’s really no substance to it whatsoever. If they truly meant what their plan was for a new speaker of the House or moving an agenda in a different way, then they should have acted months ago and they did not.”

When host Ed Berliner asked Ellmers, who was elected in the 2010 Tea Party wave, if the rebelling members of Congress were Tea Party members, she distanced herself: “I don’t know what they associate themselves with, but I can tell you that they get a lot of media attention.”

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