The conservative base is clamoring for the House to consider its first abortion-related bill of the 113th Congress, but at least one ousted GOP moderate is sounding an alarm about the political dangers for her party.
Former Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who lost her 2012 re-election bid to Democrat Raul Ruiz, said the House's renewed focus on a Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy will likely hurt the party's efforts to build a broader base.
"People who are in districts that are tighter, or people who, in my view, read the bill, will see that it is too extreme," Bono Mack, now a senior vice president at FaegreBD Consulting, said in an interview with CQ Roll Call. "The whole party is trying so hard to reach out to people who are not in the party right now. ... This is one of those things where people who are on the fence, looking at both parties, deciding which one they like, they might look at this bill and say, 'I just might not go there. This is a little too far for me.'"
Bono Mack was one of six moderate Republicans who voted against a very similar bill when it came to the House floor under suspension of the rules last year, when it applied to late-term abortions only in the District of Columbia, not everywhere in the country.
Franks expanded the current legislation in response to the conviction of Kermit Gosnell, a Pennsylvania abortion doctor who was recently charged with causing the death of a Virginia woman and killing three infants after they had been born.
Franks has scheduled a hearing Thursday for the bill in the Judiciary subcommittee he chairs. In advance of that hearing, Franks and his allies held a Wednesday morning news conference to tout the bill's new relevance.
"He's not an anomaly," Franks said of Gosnell, whom he also called "the face of abortion on demand."
Despite support from outside anti-abortion groups and from vocal conservatives in the Republican Conference, however, there is still no clarity yet on whether GOP leadership will ultimately agree to bring the measure to the floor, as doing so would carry considerable political risks.
These are risks that Bono Mack knows too well.
Bono Mack told CQ Roll Call on Wednesday that she is opposed to abortion and thinks it's a "terrible choice. I don't believe the government should be involved in that." She also said there were provisions in the bill that were troubling, such as those that would make it a crime for a doctor to perform the procedure and would interfere with the patient-physician relationship.
"The title of the bill sounds so good," she said of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. "But people have to stop and think and read these bills. There have to be more people like that."
Bringing the bill to the floor in the 112th Congress was "a mistake," Bono Mack said, and it would be a mistake this time around, too. She explained that it would put unfair pressure again on moderate Republicans to vote depending on whether they want to appeal to their base or to receive a good rating from the National Right to Life Committee, which has pledged to "score" the vote.
She and three other Republican colleagues who voted "no" on the D.C. abortion ban bill all lost re-election in 2012, though Bono Mack said, at least in her case, it was not the primary reason for her defeat. The only Republican to vote against the measure to politically survive to see the 113th Congress — Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania — declined to speak to CQ Roll Call about this issue on the record.
That bill received a simple majority of votes, but it failed to garner the two-thirds affirmative votes needed, and floor consideration culminated in a confrontation on the House floor among Bono Mack and then-Rep. Robert Dold, R-Ill., who also voted against the bill, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.
“Are you kidding me? How many times are we going to vote on this?” Bono Mack reportedly told Cantor in the heated exchange.
Franks did acknowledge following the July 2012 vote that “it will cost some people the election."
“In very few districts in America will someone lose because they voted to protect a pain-capable baby from torture," Franks continued. "And if that’s the case, maybe they need a different district anyway.”
But Bono Mack said that holding another vote at this time could hurt all Republicans, not just those in swing districts. The vote did nothing last year — and would not do anything this year either, she said — to help foster an impression that House Republicans are committed to pushing legislation to create jobs and boost the economy. Instead the effort will be viewed as staging votes on controversial social policy bills that have no chance of being passed by the Senate or signed by the president into law.
"It was very frustrating," she said. "This came up last year, and there were real issues to focus on that should have been the news of the day. It wasn't this."
Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.