The House of Representatives passed legislation to ban virtually all late-term abortions Wednesday, and the leader of two Capitol Hill sit-ins on the issue says the protests were vital to keeping the issue on the “front burner”.
The House voted 242-184 to approve the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with some exceptions for rape victims. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., and advocates say the final version is even stronger than the one pulled from the floor earlier this year.
“I was very pleased that the vote happened and also that the language of the bill ended up surprisingly to be much stronger than the original bill that would have been presented on January 22,” said Jill Stanek, a retired nurse, who once confronted then-Illinois State Sen. Barack Obama over his opposition to a bill that would require abortion providers to extend life-saving measures to babies who survive attempted abortions.
The bill was originally scheduled for January vote to coincide with the annual March for Life and the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in which the Supreme Court ruled there was a constitutional right to abortion. It was removed from the House floor when some female Republicans balked at a provision requiring women to present a police report before seeking a late-term abortion on the grounds they were raped.
When the legislation did not swiftly return to the calendar, Stanek teamed with the Christian Defense Coalition and Operation Rescue to stage a sit-in at Speaker John Boehner’s office on March 25. Stanek and many others were arrested that day. They held another protest earlier this month.
Wednesday’s vote took place on the second anniversary of the conviction of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted of murdering babies who survived late-term abortions.
Stanek firmly believes the sit-ins helped push the bill back onto the House floor.
“Those who heard the floor debate [Wednesday] and heard Speaker Boehner heard him say that he wanted to give a shout-out to not only the representatives who were involved in crafting the bill. He also said, ‘To those Americans who made their voices heard, who stood up for this bill, want you to know we heard you,'” said Stanek.
“I know that people emailed and called their legislators and Speaker Boehner but I also think that he was acknowledging both our protests. Even yesterday, I heard from people who are insiders on the Hill that the protests made a big difference,” she said.
Stanek was in the House gallery for Wednesday’s vote. She says the effectiveness of the protests was a simple case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.
“The Hill operates in crisis mode, basically putting out one fire to the next,” said Stanek. “Our protest on March 25, where we had a sit-in and eight of us were arrested, I’m told by several people moved the pain capable bill back up to the front burner.”
As frustrated as Stanek was with the four-month delay in passing the bill, she is thrilled with what she sees as improvements to the original plan.
“All of those warring factions in the pro-life movement ended up putting language in this bill that makes it pretty solid as far as not giving the abortionist really any room to even commit 20-week and beyond abortions, even if there is somewhat of a rape-incest exception,” said Stanek.
One of the biggest changes is that the bill treats minors and adults differently on whether they’re required to file police reports.
“Minors have to report rape and incest to police, which makes total sense because if you’re a minor and you’re involved in incest or you’ve been raped there’s a big chance that you could be raped again if the perpetrator isn’t caught,” said Stanek.
For adults seeking late-term abortions, one of the usual exceptions is no longer grounds for an exception.
“They are only allowed to get abortions for rape. Incest has been taken out as an exception for adult women. If you’re an adult and you’re engaging in consensual incest sex, then you shouldn’t have an exception for abortions. If you’ve been raped and the victim of incest and you’re an adult then it would be rape. It would be considered rape whether it’s a family member or not,” said Stanek.
Adult rape victims would be required to receive counseling or medical treatment 48 hours before an abortion.
The next hurdle for the late-term abortion ban is the U.S. Senate. Republican leaders are favorable to the bill but reaching sixty votes to defeat a Democratic filibuster may not be possible. Stanek says Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., will passionately lead the fight.
“For all the concerns I have for him as a conservative in other areas, I know without a doubt that he is very articulate on pro-life issues. I’ve heard him speak very forcefully and convincingly on this particular bill. He even said in January at a Family Research Council event that he was champing at the bit to debate this bill,” said Stanek.
Stanek is keenly aware that even Senate passage won’t turn the bill into a law because President Obama is certain to veto it and supporters do not have the votes to override it. She says there is still an important reason to keep pushing it forward.
“I am hopeful that the bill will continue to percolate at the forefront of conversation with the American public and continue to educate the American public about how advanced abortions are in the United States to the point where women can get abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, which so many people don’t even know,” said Stanek.
Public opinion polls support Stanek’s assertion. While the public remains intensely divided on the overall question of abortion, the gap gets wider and wider when the focus turns to late-term abortions.
“Across all demographics, the majority of Americans, usually at least 60 percent, think that late-term abortions shouldn’t be allowed and should be banned. We’re talking men, women, young, old, millennials. Across the board, people think that this is heinous,” said Stanek, who believes Democrats are making a mistake by defending late-term abortions.
“It’s definitely a losing proposition for Democrats and Hillary Clinton, for instance, to come out yesterday in a tweet opposed to this bill. It definitely sets them apart from the mainstream and makes them look like the extremists that they are,” she said.
Stanek says she will be focusing much of her time highlighting Clinton’s position on this issue. She will also be watching to make sure the Senate takes action.
“I’m trying to move forward in faith and seeing what Leader McConnell says and what Lindsey Graham says. There haven’t been any plans formulated yet, except for if this doesn’t move forward in a timely manner, we will be back,” said Stanek.