According to a statement issued by the White House on Tuesday, President Obama would veto a bill banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which infants are capable of feeling pain and surviving long-term if born.
The legislation, which is identical to a bill passed by the House of Representatives in 2013 and is scheduled for vote in the new Congress this Thursday, garners strong support in national polling. According to a Quinnipiac poll from November 2014, voters back the bill by a 27-point margin.
Quinnipiac asked voters:
As you may know, in 2013 the House of Representatives approved legislation that would ban virtually all abortions nationwide after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of rape and incest that are reported to authorities. Would you support or oppose such legislation?
Sixty percent of votes said they would support it, while 33 percent said they were opposed. Democrats were evenly divided (46 percent to 47 percent) on the question.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama himself claimed he supported late-term abortion bans so long as they included a "strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don't think that 'mental distress' qualifies as the health of the mother.'" The bill re-introduced in the House of Representatives this month includes just such an exception that allows abortion in cases where a physical health issue endangers the life of the mother.
Some Republican members of Congress, including Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, are now objecting to the bill's reporting requirement for late-term abortions in the case of rape--a requirement Ellmers voted for in 2013. But the aforementioned Quinnipiac poll explicitly mentions that requirement, and it still finds strong support for the legislation.
Late-term abortion bans already on the books in Democratic Pennsylvania and New York don't include any exception for the case of rape. After all, when an unborn child has been alive for 20 to 24 weeks after conception, it's possible to terminate the pregnancy without terminating the child's life. The reporting requirement in the federal bill is intended to keep the exception from becoming an all-purpose loophole for late-term abortionists. Though some infants can survive when born 20 weeks after conception, abortionists in some states will legally perform "purely elective" abortions at 28 weeks into pregnancy or later.
Despite warnings from Democrats, pundits, and some pro-choice Republicans in 2013 that the legislation would hurt the GOP, the issue of late-term abortion actually became a vulnerability for Democrats in the 2014 elections. Iowa's Bruce Braley falsely claimed in a debate that he opposed late-term abortions, and Louisiana's Mary Landrieu took out a newspaper ad that falsely claimed she had already voted to ban late-term abortions. Colorado senator Mark Udall's effort to make abortion the central issue in his race backfired when he admitted he supported late-term abortion even if it was performed because of the baby's gender. Gains made by pro-life Republicans were not limited to red and purple states: They also picked up House seats in New York, Maine, and New Hampshire.