Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today agreed to be the lead sponsor of a Senate bill to ban abortion after an unborn child is 20 weeks old. A similar measure passed the House last month and a state version is now being debated in the Texas legislature, where it is likely to be approved.
With Rubio’s presence, the bill is certain to gain enormous media attention and thus more national visibility for the issue of limiting late term abortions. Right-to-life groups have urged Rubio to take the lead on the issue, believing he would be the strongest possible advocate in the Senate. Several sources confirmed he’d agreed.
The bill faces an uphill fight in the Democrat-controlled Senate and a veto threat by President Obama. But win or lose, Republicans and the leaders of the pro-life movement regard the 20-week ban as an especially favorable issue for their cause – and one that might strengthen GOP candidates in the 2014 midterm election.
This is reflected in poll numbers. A Gallup survey in January found that 64 percent of Americans think an abortion in the second three months of pregnancy should be illegal. As for the last three months, 80 percent feel an abortion that late should be banned. A Texas Tribune poll found even more sweeping opposition among Texans to late term abortions.
Rubio’s decision to play a major role in the abortion debate is bound to stir political speculation. He is viewed as a likely candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
But he’s recently prompted serious criticism by Republicans over his support for the immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last week. His front-and-center role on a key anti-abortion measure is likely to ease concerns about him among GOP voters.
The bill cleared House, 228-196. Six Democrats joined 222 Republicans in voting for it. Six Republicans sided with 190 Democrats in voting no.
Rubio is expected to announce his sponsorship of the bill after the July 4 congressional recess.
In Texas, the late term issue has boosted Governor Rick Perry, who is considering whether to seek another term next year or possibly run for president in 2016. Democrats accused him of “demonizing” women when he questioned the filibuster again a 20-week ban last week by state Democratic senator Wendy Davis. In truth, his statement was quite respectful. Polls now show him in a strong position for reelection against Davis or any other Democratic candidate.
The idea behind the anti-abortion bill is to ban abortion once the unborn child is viable – that is, able to survive – outside the womb. There is disagreement over when this occurs during a period of 20 to 24 weeks after fertilization.
At the very least, Republicans will benefit from having the Rubio-backed legislation take center stage, overshadowing controversial statements by Republican candidates in 2012 about rape and abortion. The bill provides an exception to the late term ban in the case of rape or incest and when a physical health condition puts the life of the mother at risk.