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20-Week Abortion Ban Advances in House

A bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation across the country advanced from a subcommittee Tuesday, but it’s still not clear if House leadership will want the bill to come to the floor.

The approval of the bill by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice wasn’t a surprise; the measure’s author, Rep. Trent Franks, is the panel’s chairman.

“I understand the unfortunate reality that today’s markup will be surrounded by some degree of controversy,” the Arizona Republican said as a statement. “But we, as a nation, find ourselves at a point at which we don’t offer unborn children even the most basic protections — even protections we extend to animals and property. The trial of Kermit Gosnell exposed late abortions for what they really are: relocated infanticide. I pray we use this as a ‘teachable moment,’ in the words of President Obama, and can agree that, at the very least, we are better than dismembering babies who can feel every excruciating moment,” he said.

But Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., has not yet publicly committed to bringing the measure before the full committee. Nor has House Republican leadership committed to allowing a controversial social policy issue to come to the House floor for a vote that could put moderate and vulnerable members of the conference in a tight spot looking ahead to the 2014 midterm elections.

When Franks brought up a version of this bill in the 112th Congress, it applied only to the District of Columbia and thought it received a majority of the votes, it did not garner the necessary two-thirds majority required for a measure to pass under suspension of the rules — an expedited procedure for allowing typically non-controversial bills to come to the floor.

At that time, then-Reps. Mary Bono Mack of California and Robert Dold of Illinois, both moderate Republicans, confronted House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., on the chamber floor for forcing a vote on the measure.

“It was very frustrating,” Bono Mack told CQ Roll Call recently. “There were real issues to focus on that should have been the news of the day. It wasn’t this.”

Bono Mack was ultimately defeated in her re-election campaign in 2012, as was Dold.

What’s different this time around, however, is that the bill is being touted by Franks and other supporters as a direct response to the case of Philadelphia abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder last month. It was the Gosnell case that led Franks to broaden his legislation’s reach to include the whole country, and he thinks this will resonate with Republican voters and appeal to GOP leaders who might be looking for a way that the House can respond to the matter.

“This is a pro-life conference,” Franks said, “that believes that if we can’t protect children … then maybe it’s time to pack it in as a party.”

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