In 2003, Arkansas senator Mark Pryor, a Democrat, voted for a federal ban on partial-birth abortion, a particular procedure that the late New York Democratic senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described as "too close to infanticide." But now as Congress considers a bill to ban late-term abortion procedures that are indistinguishable from infanticide, Pryor says he's reluctant to vote for the measure because he's worried the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional.
Politico's Elizabeth Titus and Jose DelReal report:
SOCIAL WARS RETURN IN AR-SEN: GOP Rep. Tom Cotton has been lashing Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor for refusing to say where he stands on a 20-week abortion ban, a position the Arkansas Republican believes is in line with most voters in the conservative state. But Pryor said in an email to POLITICO that he's "skeptical" of a bill that Cotton supports, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.
— "I am personally opposed to abortion," Pryor said, other than in a handful of situations. "I could support a 20-week bill if it were crafted in a way that the courts would uphold as constitutional, but I’m skeptical that’s possible in light of recent rulings." Cotton accuses Pryor of shifting his views on abortion for political reasons, saying the Democrats has sought to avoid taking a position on the 20-week bill even though there is "broad public agreement" that a "20-week old, unborn child shouldn’t be killed."
Pryor's constitutional concerns sound like more of an excuse than a reason for not supporting the bill. Just three years before Pryor voted for the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban, the Supreme Court had ruled unconstitutional a similar law that passed at the state level. So there was little reason to think the Court would uphold the law at the time Pryor voted for it. The federal ban was ultimately upheld by the Court in 2007 on a 5-4 vote only because John Roberts and Samuel Alito were confirmed as justices in the years after the bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush.
It's not clear how the current Supreme Court would rule on the 20-week abortion limit. But such laws (which have already been passed in 10 states) certainly have a better chance of being upheld than the partial-birth abortion ban had in 2003. (There's a reason why pro-abortion groups didn't challenge Texas's 20-week limit).
So why was Pryor willing to vote for the partial-birth abortion ban but "skeptical" of the 20-week limit? Perhaps he has developed some new standards for voting in the past decade. Or it just might be that the Democratic party of 2014 demands greater conformity on the issue of abortion than did the Democratic party of 2003.