WASHINGTON (BP) — Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives were guilty of “moral cowardice” when they canceled a scheduled vote on a bill to ban late-term abortions, the Southern Baptist Convention’s lead ethicist said.
On the eve of the annual March for Life, House GOP leaders abandoned their plan to vote Thursday (Jan. 22) on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36. The Jan. 21 reversal by House leadership put off a vote on a bill that would ban abortions on babies 20 weeks or more after fertilization based on scientific evidence that a child in the womb experiences pain by that point in gestation.
House leaders pulled the scheduled vote after about two dozen Republicans, led by female members, expressed concerns about the legislation, according to news reports. The chamber, however, had approved the same measure in the previous congressional session.
Russell Moore did not mince words in his response to the GOP’s action.
“I am disgusted by this act of moral cowardice,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “If the House Republicans cannot pass something as basic as restricting the abortion of five-month, pain-capable unborn children, what can they get done?
“The Republicans in Congress should come and explain this atrocity to the hundreds of thousands of people gathering here in the nation’s capital to march for life,” he said in an ERLC news release late Jan. 21. “The congressional Republicans seem to think that pro-lifers will be satisfied with Ronald Reagan rhetoric and Nancy Pelosi results. They are quite wrong.”
Moore continued his criticism of House Republicans Jan. 22 during an event in Washington, D.C., shortly before the March for Life.
Describing the proposal as a “reasonable, moderate bill,” he told the pro-life audience, “This isn’t a radical move, and the House Republicans became scared and showed a complete lack of moral conviction and competence.”
While a pro-life renaissance is occurring at the grass-roots level, “[W]e still have politicians that are trembling and shaking over ghosts from the past instead of dealing with reality as it is,” Moore said.
In place of a vote on the pain-capable abortion ban, House leaders substituted a roll call on the No Taxpayer Funding of Abortion Act, H.R. 7, while people were gathered on the National Mall for the March for Life. The House approved the bill with a 242-179 vote.
The measure, which the House also passed last year, would institute a permanent, government-wide prohibition on federal funding of abortion by standardizing bans on such funds that now exist in various federal programs. It also would halt money for abortion coverage under the 2010 health-care law.
The House approved in June 2013 basically an identical version of the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act that it failed to vote on Jan. 22. The roll call in favor of the bill nearly two years ago was 228-196.
Reps. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Jackie Walorski of Indiana led the Republican members who expressed concerns to House leadership about the pain-capable abortion ban, according to news reports.
Ellmers wants to drop a requirement in the rape exception of the bill that the assault be reported to law enforcement authorities, she told reporters Jan. 22, according to the Washington Examiner. She also said Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, should be certain their legislation is not perceived as “harsh and judgmental” by women and young adults.
Women and young people both support the ban with the reporting requirement, however, according to a poll in November by Quinnipiac University. That survey showed 60 percent of Americans, 59 percent of women and 57 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 favor the legislation.
Ellmers voted for the ban in 2013 but said the rape reporting requirement “wasn’t evident in the base language of the bill,” the Examiner reported.
The pain-capable ban’s sponsor — Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona — responded gently to the actions by some of his GOP colleagues.
“I’ve maintained an open heart, because I realize that all of the people involved have sincere perspectives and have knowledge and experiences and information that I don’t have,” he said, The Washington Post reported. “So my heart is open — my desire here is not a political victory, it is to try to somehow be part of catalyzing an awakening in America to where we finally see the humanity of these little victims and the inhumanity of what’s happening to them.”
Other pro-life leaders joined Moore in expressing their discontent with the House’s failure to vote on the pain-capable bill. Meanwhile, they commended its quick action on the funding ban.
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) was “profoundly disappointed” the vote was postponed.
“Pro-life citizens across the nation are sharply disappointed with those lawmakers who violated commitments to constituents…. In some cases these actions were apparently dictated mainly by inordinate concern with political correctness and garnering favorable coverage from the mainstream news media,” NRLC President Carol Tobias said. “Some of these lawmakers may ultimately conclude that they were ill advised to sacrifice the trust of their pro-life constituents so egregiously.”
Three female heads of pro-life organizations — Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List, Jeanne Monahan of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund, and Penny Nance of Concerned Women for America — said, “While we are disappointed that the House will not be voting on the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act today, we are pleased that the House is moving forward to stop taxpayer funding of abortion.”
They support a “prompt vote” on the pain-capable ban and will work “to ensure the maximum number of votes” in the House on the legislation, the female leaders said in a written statement.
The new Republican majority in the Senate also is seeking to pass the pain-capable ban, but the White House already has signaled its opposition to the measure. Obama administration officials indicated in a Jan. 21 policy statement they would recommend the president veto it.
In the Jan. 22 vote on the taxpayer funding ban, Rep. Richard Hanna of New York was the sole Republican to oppose it. Only three Democrats — Reps. Dan Lipinski of Illinois, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Collin Peterson of Minnesota — voted for the bill.