WASHINGTON – Scrambling to pass anti-abortion legislation before they recess for fall congressional elections, House Republicans on Tuesday won passage of a bill that would make it a federal crime to evade one state’s parental consent laws by taking a minor to another state for an abortion.
But in a mark of the majority party’s struggles with its “values” agenda, Senate Republicans may run out of time to vote on the measure before lawmakers leave town at the end of the week.
That would leave Republicans with few trophies to show their socially conservative base as they try to motivate voters in the final six weeks of the 2006 campaign.
Some strategists fear that failure to win final passage of the bill could hamper efforts to spur turnout of a reliably Republican voting bloc that may mean the difference in key races around the country.
“This could be a problem,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group working to mobilize women voters opposed to abortion in six states seen as central to the fight for control of Congress.
Dannenfelser’s warning came just days after national evangelical leaders met in Washington to intensify their push to persuade conservative voters to look past their disappointment with Republican legislative failures and go to the polls in November to support the party’s candidates.
The bill that the House passed Tuesday by a 264-153 vote was the latest initiative in a more than decade-long campaign to chip away at abortion rights. Republicans Butch Otter of Idaho and Cathy McMorris of Washington voted for the measure.
But aides to senior Senate Republicans said Tuesday they could not be sure the measure would make it to the floor for a vote.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who is fending off attacks by Democrats that he has presided over a “do-nothing” Congress, is under pressure in the session’s waning days to pass critical legislation funding the military, setting up tribunals for terrorists and strengthening border security.
Faced with these priorities, consideration of the parental consent bill may have to wait until a lame-duck session following November’s election.
Backers of the parental consent measure remain optimistic that it will become law, if not quite as quickly as they had hoped.
For years, state legislatures have been passing laws that require pregnant minors to notify or seek permission from a parent before they get an abortion.
Despite the proliferation of the notification measures, abortion opponents complain that some adults are helping an unknown number of minors skirt the laws by taking them into states that do not have the requirements.
In July, the Senate passed legislation that would criminalize that practice. President Bush said he would sign the measure.
Instead of accepting the Senate bill, however, the House passed a modified version. Rep. Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the author of the House bill, said the House wanted a stronger version of the measure.
The changes mean the bill cannot become law without going back to the Senate for yet another vote.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.