Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) became the face of Republican timidity when she publicly justified torpedoing a quick vote in January on the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, also known as the 20-week bill. She will reap the whirlwind, but it is the House Republican leadership which deserves the blame for this betrayal.
Why are GOP elites so squeamish about voting against late-term abortion? It is telling that Rep. Ellmers’ and others’ decision to torpedo a late-term abortion ban came just after a retreat the leadership organized for GOP House members featuring demographer Neil Howe (who coined the term “millennials”) and focused on how the GOP can attract younger voters. “The first vote we take, or the second vote, or the fifth vote, shouldn’t be on an issue where we know that millennials—social issues just aren’t as important [to them],” Ellmers told the National Journal.
Let’s pause for a moment and consider how much sense it makes to torpedo a late-term abortion plan in order to attract younger voters. According to Gallup (May 2014), overall millennials split 50% pro-choice and 40% pro-life. So in the very best case, we boost by 10% our standing among a cohort which represented 22% of the turnout in 2012 and 19% in 2014 – a net gain of 2% in the total vote. How many voters would we lose in the process of attempting to gain that 2 percent?
For every millennial who votes Republican because of our doing nothing on a social issue, one or more pro-life activists who went door-to-door last year on behalf of Republican candidates will stay home. For example, Susan B. Anthony List had a 1000 canvassers going door-to-door in North Carolina, Kansas, and other states. Every voter who turned out last year, pro-choice and pro-life, knew that voting for the Republican candidate would mean the pursuit of measures to defend the lives of the unborn. Republicans won, and in so doing put a stake through the heart of the “war on women” rhetoric.
But it gets worse because, like other Americans, millennials favor late-term abortion bans. A November 2014 Quinnipiac poll fairly and neutrally described what is in the 20 week abortion ban this way:
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?
Women support the legislation 59 to 35 percent. Political independents support it 56 to 36 percent. As for millennials? Voters under age 29 support the bill 57 percent to 38 percent, about the same proportions as the elderly (65 plus): 58 percent to 32 percent.
What is the point of GOP majorities if you cannot pass a bill favored by the American people 60 to 33 percent, including almost half of Democrats?
Will the House leadership act quickly to repair the damage and pass the bill?
Steve Wagner is the founder and president of QEV Analytics, a Washington DC -based public opinion research firm.