In the wake of the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) decision to overturn Roe v. Wade Republicans, who are heavily favored to win the House this November, are weighing their options for attempting to pass a national abortion ban.
House Republicans made similar efforts when they held the lower chamber in 2015 and 2017; on two occasions, they passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would have banned abortion nationally after 20 weeks of gestation. Predictably, the measure floundered in the Senate.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), who is sponsoring the same bill in the 117th Congress, has told CNN that he is weighing changing the measure to provide for a 15-week abortion ban. This move, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told CNN, would have the support of Republican leadership.
Another bill, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, has been mentioned in the past as another option for a GOP majority.
That bill, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), would require that medical care be given to babies who survived botched abortion attempts. Democrats have suggested that the measure is superfluous and that existing laws already ensure such protections for infants.
Wagner’s bill, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in May, would be on the floor “day one” of a GOP-controlled legislature.
The Life at Conception Act, sponsored by Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W. Va.), would go even further, recognizing a right to life from the moment of conception—a position that even few GOP-led legislatures have yet put into law.
Mooney’s bill has an impressive 163 GOP co-sponsors, suggesting that the position is shared by a substantial portion of the entire House Republican caucus.
Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, has filed a discharge petition for the bill, which could force a vote on it over the head of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). So far, the petition has 55 signatures; however, 218 signatures would be needed to push the bill to the floor for a vote, and this would require several defections among Democrats’ ranks to achieve even if every single Republican supported the petition.
The Heartbeat Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detectable, which usually comes around 6 weeks of gestation.
Another bill, the Protecting Life on College Campuses Act sponsored by Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), would seek to reduce abortions by threatening to remove federal funding from schools that provide abortion pills or other abortion services to students or employees. This bill, while less wide-reaching than others, would send a clear message of the mood of Congress if it were passed.
“The Protecting Life on College Campuses Act is about guarding young college women and their unborn children from the predatory abortion industry’s radical and reckless push for universal access to abortions,” Roy said of the bill, adding in a separate statement that it would “shield the conscience of every American taxpayer.”
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has sponsored the same bill in the Senate.
However, aside from a few comments GOP leaders have been tight-lipped about the options that they might pursue to ban abortion if they take back the House, despite praising the SCOTUS decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Clinic that overturned Roe.
“We will continue to look wherever we can go to save as many lives as possible,” McCarthy said in a press conference the day of the decision, avoiding mentioning any specific policy initiatives that Republicans might sponsor.
On the other hand, pressure is mounting on GOP leaders to take action if they recapture the House in November.
In a letter to McCarthy and Scalise, a coalition of several major anti-abortion groups demanded that Republicans bring Kelly’s Heartbeat Protection Act to the floor for a vote if they take back the House.
“Only federal law can protect unborn babies from states that will continue to allow and even subsidize abortion on demand up until birth. The House of Representatives is best positioned to lead with a robust pro-life agenda beginning now and accelerating in January should you retake the majority,” the coalition said.
Ultimately, however, any move by House Republicans would be little more than a symbolic victory for the pro-life movement.
In the Senate, where all bills need the support of 60 senators to overcome the filibuster threshold, any move to severely restrict or ban abortion would almost certainly fail.
Even if Republicans beat projections to gain a supermajority some senators, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) have expressed somewhat more liberal sentiments towards abortion, and might not support a bill that would substantially restrict it.
If an abortion ban did, by some unlikely chance, make it through the Senate, it would need the approval of President Joe Biden, who would almost certainly veto it.
Thus, even as Republicans continue to mull over their options for an abortion ban, such bills have little hope of becoming law during the 118th Congress.