Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are filing a discharge petition Tuesday to force a vote on an anti-choice bill that falsely suggests abortion providers routinely murder infants “born alive” after abortions.
The “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” HR 962, was filed by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) in early February and has 187 co-sponsors—including three Democrats. The bill would require medical providers to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.”
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Wagner hope to force a vote using a discharge petition, a procedural tool House members can use to force a floor vote if they are able to gather 218 signatures. Discharge petitions are typically used by the minority party to push for votes on bills that the majority party doesn’t want, and they are rarely successful. House Republicans have repeatedly asked for unanimous consent—a request to expedite proceedings as long as no member of Congress objects—to bring the bill directly to a floor vote, only to be thwarted by the pro-choice Democrats who control the chamber.
Scalise told reporters last week that he wanted House Democrats to establish a voting record on the issue. “So, you know, for all the Democrats who ran saying they were pro-life, this is going to be the true test. There are a lot of people a lot of the country that are interested in this,” he said, according to the Hill.
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Democratic Reps. Collin Peterson (MN), Daniel Lipinski (IL), and Henry Cuellar (TX) are co-sponsors of the bill, though Cuellar told Roll Call he would not sign the discharge petition.
“This is a political stunt,” said Amanda Thayer, deputy communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, in an interview with Rewire.News. “What it shows is that is that they’re willing to play politics with the lives, health, and rights of women in order to further a political agenda that isn’t grounded in anything remotely close to truth, science, or reality. … This is undoubtedly a bone to throw to the anti-choice base of Trump.”
Scalise himself said discharge petitions are “not the way to legislate,” according to a Roll Call report from last May about a discharge petition from moderate Republicans to try to force a vote on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation. “I’ve talked to some members about the importance of keeping control of the legislative vehicle and solving the problem on our terms, where we focus on solutions, not politics,” Scalise said at the time.
“The political nature of this thing is so obvious,” she said. “This is probably for them a way to try to steer the conversation away from the national conversation that really exploded over the last few days and weeks around [the near-total abortion ban in] Georgia. I don’t want to suggest that [this] was timed specifically, but it just so happened that these two events are moving at the same time. But now that they are, if I’m the GOP and I’m Republicans, I really don’t want to have to address the fact that we’ve seen a wave of bills that ban abortion before many women know they’re pregnant.”
Wagner’s bill is a companion to Senate legislation filed by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) that failed to reach the 60 votes it needed to advance in late February. Like the House bill, Sasse introduced the bill after Trump’s State of the Union called for Congress to pass restrictions on later abortion. Both bills are based on the myth that abortion providers let unwanted children die outside the womb while attempting to perform abortions. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) has argued the situations covered under Sasse’s bill are already banned under the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act” that was signed into law by Republican President George W. Bush in 2002.
Anti-choice rhetoric around “infanticide” against pro-choice Democrats has ramped up since early January, when New York passed the Reproductive Health Act and a Virginia bill that would have eased restrictions on later abortions was attacked by Republicans. Anti-choice advocates have tried to position it as a 2020 campaign issue, and it appears that GOP discharge petition efforts could be part of a larger electoral strategy.