Leaders of the advocacy group Faith 2 Action were at the Capitol this week where they helped five male lawmakers introduce the Heartbeat Bill, which has caught on in state legislatures but faces an uphill battle in Congress. It would ban abortions when a heartbeat is possible to detect, possibly as early as six weeks.
It’s been introduced in 17 state legislatures and passed in three—Arkansas, North Dakota and Ohio, where it was vetoed by moderate Republican Governor John Kasich. Conservatives are now hoping to use unified Republican control of Washington to wage similar battles in the nation’s capital.
“The difference this year is that we finally have a president, I think, that will sign reasonable pro-life legislation,” Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) told The Daily Beast. “Whereas, under Mr. Obama we had the most pro-abortion president in the history of the Republic. He will go down in history as The Abortion President.”
Last year, 19 different states passed more than 60 new restrictions on abortions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which seems to be why abortions dropped to a low unseen since Roe v. Wade under President Obama. That wasn’t lost on anti-abortion Republicans who are now hoping to offer similar bills in the newly minted 115th Congress.
“The federal government has so much more profile that it catalyzes a debate that sometimes one state cannot do on a nationwide basis,” Franks continued. On the first day of Congress he introduced legislation to restrict late-term abortions, which he had introduced in previous congressional sessions only to see state legislatures nationwide follow his lead.
“I think the states are the laboratories of the nation and especially on this issue because it is so intense. I think it kind of works both ways,” Franks said. “But we learned from the strategy and from the debate that took place there.”
Trump previously stated that abortion policy should be left up to the states, but now Republicans in Congress are hoping their party can tighten the nation’s abortion policies from the top down.
“This Heartbeat Bill is not at odds with a pro-life president,” Rep. Steve King told The Daily Beast. King, He’s the bill’s main cosponsor, and predicted it will effectively ban abortions, which is why he wants it advanced federally. “I think it’s important that the states advance this legislation in every state that can. When that happens that builds a national consensus. It’s important we advance this Heartbeat Bill as far as we can, as fast as we can here in Congress.”
Some conservatives on Capitol Hill had been dubious of Trump’s record on abortion issues but
Trump has already signaled he’s on their side.
On his first full day in the Oval Office Trump, flanked by a male-only cast of advisors, signed an executive order cutting off American aid to any international organization that performs abortions, which is dubbed the Mexico City Policy.
Next week, Trump said he’ll announce his first Supreme Court nominee next week. Religious conservatives view that, coupled with the potential of him replacing a couple more justices in the next four years, as an opening to overturn Roe V. Wade, which they have viewed as unconstitutional since the landmark decision came down in 1973.
“That is never going to be settled,” Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) told the Daily Beast. “No matter what a Supreme Court ever does on that issue, I doubt that it will ever be settled.”
Democrats are bracing for the far right’s efforts to restrict abortions at the local and state level over the past few years to come to the nation’s capital.
“That’s of concern. This is a dangerous precedent,” Rep. Ami Bera (D-Cal.) told The Daily Beast. “They didn’t even wait a week to go down this road. We fully expect the House Republicans—they are who they are, but this is really dangerous where they’re headed right now.”
The early focus on abortion has Democrats—and even some Republicans—scratching their heads because Trump won the election based on a populist economic message; not a hard-right social agenda, which he now seems to be advancing on the international stage and here at home.
“I do not support defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides preventive care in birth control, family planning services to an awful lot of women across this country. And I don’t think that ought to be the priority, but I don’t set the agenda,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told The Daily Beast.
“I don’t think that’s what people thought they were voting for. They thought they were voting for jobs and the economy,” Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Col.) told The Daily Beast. “I think that women and men around the country, not just those who marched this Saturday, but people are going to be very concerned about these intrusions into their private health care decisions.”
However, Democrats are vowing to give Republicans a bruising battle if Trump taps a far right jurist to the High Court, but Democratic leaders are stopping short of promising to block any GOP nominee outright.
“We’re not going to say there shouldn’t be a hearing,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters on Tuesday. “A hearing will bring out what this nominee is all about. We’re not going to do what the Republicans did. But if the candidate is out of the mainstream, I can tell you, I will fight and my caucus will fight tooth and nail against them.”