Policy or Politics? An Anti-Choice Congress Fails It Base

Ellen Marshall

I’m confused. On Tuesday supporters of limiting access to abortion – which a majority of the House of Representatives are – did not take the opportunity to make it a federal crime to take a minor to another state to have an abortion. The House (which already passed a version of this bill in April 2005) could have taken up the bill the Senate passed in July of this year, passed it and then sent it onto the President for signature. Slam dunk – it would have been law.

I’m confused. On Tuesday supporters of limiting access to abortion – which a majority of the House of Representatives are – did not take the opportunity to make it a federal crime to take a minor to another state to have an abortion. The House (which already passed a version of this bill in April 2005) could have taken up the bill the Senate passed in July of this year, passed it and then sent it onto the President for signature. Slam dunk – it would have been law.

But instead, House Republican leadership substituted its own, slightly different language and passed that slightly different bill instead. The hitch with the House decision to adopt a bill with minor differences is that it can’t technically be signed into law until all the differences with the Senate are ironed out – an impossibility in these waning days of the Congressional session. And it’s particularly odd because it was the bill’s anti-choice supporters who stood in the way of this bill becoming law.

So what motivated them? Good public policy? No, that doesn’t seem to be it – otherwise the House would have passed the Senate bill and gotten the victory of having the bill signed into law. Politics is the more likely answer. The House is currently so extreme on this issue that it wouldn’t even consider the minor modifications the Senate made, perhaps in an attempt to keep their base appeased by remaining so strident. Then to take it one more step, the House leadership held the vote to make it look like they were trying to do something and hopefully motivate anti-choice voters in November. The might get some of their base riled up, but at the end of the day, they prevented this bill from becoming law. Pure politics.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want this bill to pass. But if I were them, I’d take a policy victory rather than just creating political fodder. Here’s one more case where ideology is more important to these people that public health or policy (even when it would have been bad policy).

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