House GOP Leaders Announce Pain-Capable Bill Set for Gosnell Anniversary

The breakthrough agreement closes a chapter of months of frustration in the pro-life community surrounding signature anti-abortion legislation.

 Obstetric ultrasound of a 4-month-old unborn child
Obstetric ultrasound of a 4-month-old unborn child (photo: Shutterstock)

WASHINGTON — After more than three months of deadlock, House GOP leaders revealed Friday that lawmakers will finally vote to ban late-term abortions at 20 weeks on the second anniversary of notorious abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s conviction for murder.

The long-delayed vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (H.R. 36) is expected to take place on May 13, the date when Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted in 2013 on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four infants he killed with scissors after they were born alive. Gosnell, a late-term abortionist, ran a filth-ridden facility described as a “House of Horrors” and is serving life in prison without parole.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the House’s Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, told the Register that the federal pain-capable bill, which seeks to ban abortion at 20 weeks gestation on the basis that scientific evidence shows unborn children feel pain at that age, is now “ready for prime time” and is the result of intensive discussion and contribution from pro-life groups and GOP members after leadership hastily withdrew the original version in January.

“It’s a much-improved bill,” said Smith, explaining the goal was “to have the best possible bill.”

“There are Gosnells all over the country who have not been put behind bars, who have not been caught, who are slaughtering little babies and wounding the babies the way Gosnell did,” Smith said. “They’re out there, and this bill is designed to protect [women and unborn babies] to the greatest extent possible.”

The agreement reached within the GOP caucus followed months of tension sparked by the opposition voiced by Rep. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., chairwoman of the Republican Women’s Policy Committee, and other GOP members to the bill — even though they had voted for the same language in 2013 — just days before a vote scheduled to coincide with January’s March for Life. Ellmers and other women in the GOP caucus objected over the bill’s requirements that rape and incest (for a minor) be first reported to the authorities.

GOP leadership then pulled the bill from the highly anticipated vote, but the move caught pro-life groups by surprise, which then found themselves in the position of lobbying the pro-life majority they helped build (consisting of all Republicans except two pro-life Democrats) to bring the top-priority legislation to a floor vote. The tension was further exacerbated by the GOP leadership’s imposed radio silence that was generally observed by the participants in the negotiations.

The Weekly Standard broke the news on Friday morning that GOP House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the House GOP leadership and pro-life groups on Capitol Hill had reached an agreement.

Right now, Republican House leaders are keeping specifics on the bill’s language under wraps until Monday.


Rep. Smith: ‘Stronger Bill’

The original reporting requirement has been struck from the bill. However, Smith said the latest language is not a “compromise” but a “stronger bill with mutually reinforcing provisions.”

The language, Smith explained, requires abortionists to make sure victims of rape and incest receive either medical help or counseling from a licensed therapist — someone not on their payroll — at least 48 hours before undergoing a late-term abortion.

“This is not counseling by the abortionist. It’s to make sure that [the woman] is genuinely being looked out for,” he said, noting that this would thwart a technique used by Planned Parenthood, where “non-directive counseling” nearly always leads to abortion in their facilities.

Smith added the bill adds teeth to inspire compliance in abortionists by exposing them to lawsuits for failing to follow the law, including the “full informed-consent” requirements.

“She has recourse after the fact to sue him for civil damages,” Smith said.

He added there are also “born-alive provisions.”

“These could even be a game changer on being allowed to live if there is a design on his or her life,” he said. “So we really have strengthened the bill, and I would in no way construe this as a compromise.”

National Right to Life’s president, Carol Tobias, gave her endorsement to the final agreement and thanked GOP leaders “for not taking the easy route of gravely weakening the bill in order to facilitate a quick vote.”

“National Right to Life is deeply grateful for their determination to take the time to do the job right and do the diligent work necessary to craft strong legislation focused on the unborn child," Tobias said in a statement.

Smith said that Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., was prepared to take up the House version of the pain-capable bill and steer it through the Senate.


Welcome News

For grassroots pro-life leaders, the announcement came as welcome news that opened the way to pushing the bill forward in Congress, although a veto from the president is expected.

“Where the pro-life movement needs to be focusing right now is getting the Senate to agree to take it up immediately [for a floor vote] as soon as it passes the House,” said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.

Based on the summaries she had been provided of the agreed-upon language, Hawkins said it appeared to be a “strong bill,” but she hopes that Republicans have learned important lessons from the past months, particularly in “grassroots damage control.” Her own organization had been involved in getting students to sign a petition demanding the bill be brought to the House floor for a vote, while other pro-life organizations made phone calls to GOP House members demanding the same.

“They [House Republicans] know that trust was violated and that pro-life leaders were very upset,” she said. “So, yes, we’re getting a strong bill, with great provisions in it for protecting women and children, but I think, next time though, they’ll have the legislation hammered out before they promise to go to a vote.”

Peter Jesserer Smith is the Register’s Washington correspondent.